Monday, April 27, 2015

Behind the Street Sweeper


Whatever you are, be a good one.” - Abraham Lincoln

I am reminded from time to time of the words Dr. Martin Luther King spoke and is quoted in numerous sources. I wanted to find out more about when he first used the words, in what context and how he came about those words.

It appears he first used the words in his speech titled The Birth of A New Age,” on August 11, 1956. This speech was at the Fiftieth Anniversary of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity in Buffalo, NY.

Dr. King used these words in many different speeches but this particular speech was to encourage "African Americans on how they can best prepare for the challenges and responsibilities of the “new order” that is replacing the “old order” of colonialism abroad and segregation at home."

About half way through his speech are the following words,

"As someone said, do it so well that the living, dead, or the unborn could do it no better. If your son grows up to be a street cleaner, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry, sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well”.

Dr. King attributed the words to Morehouse College president Benjamin Mays during a speech to an Atlanta, GA audience (see King, “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” January 1, 1957, Paul H. Brown Collection).

He went on to paraphrase from a poem written by Douglas Malloch titled Be the Best of Whatever You Are” (1926).

"If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill be a shrub on the side, but be the best shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree, if you can’t be a highway be a trail, if you can’t be the sun be a star. It isn’t by size that you win or you fail. Be the best of whatever you are and that is the second challenge, that we confront the issues of today and prepare to live in this new age."

It is these words I use to remind you today of the greatness one can achieve regardless of where you are in life.

No matter what you do in life. Even in spite of your current condition in life. With timeless words repeated countless times,

Be the best at whatever it is you do.

Stay inspired my friends!

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