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Black History Month 2011

Interfaith Prayer Breakfast

Celebrating Martin Luther King,Jr.

January 12, 2011


Remarks by Brandon Brooks

As we gather today, people of many faiths, many races and ethnicities, political affiliations… to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I find myself thankful.

Thankful I have lived a life less painful than my mother’s.  Thankful I have lived a life with opportunities my father was not afforded. Thankful I have lived a life where I was dared to dream.  Thankful I have lived a life given all the tools to turn my dreams into reality.

I am also thankful that my life’s path has led me from my home in Houston, Texas to this once foreign land of Norman, Oklahoma in search of education.  I can vividly remember driving north on I-35 into Oklahoma for the first time, passing through the Arbuckle Mountains, thinking this is going to be a little different.  But what a joy the last thirteen years have been!

As we were reminded last year on this occasion by Dr. George Henderson, this same city of Norman “once where our ancestors were not allowed to be after sundown.”

This city that I now proudly call home has afforded me remarkable opportunities.  I am proud because this is a community where we can come together and celebrate an occasion such as the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And it is here in Norman and at the University of Oklahoma where I find myself on a continuing journey of education. Blessed with the opportunity to serve, ushering in and mentoring to new classes of intelligent minds at the university each year, I often find myself caught between generations, never more than when discussing the topic of civil rights.

It may be naïve of me to imagine that around this time of year we are all, young and old, reminded of the themes Dr. King spoke:

That all men are created equal… Love is the answer…

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity.”

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

“That all life is interrelated, that somehow we're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.”

I am too old to claim ignorance of these concepts… My grandfather relayed many first-hand accounts of the evil men do… My parents lived their childhood in the shadows of this great country.

Yet I am too young, born a decade too late to witness first-hand the works of Dr. King… Too young to truly understand the extent of the trials and tribulations suffered to achieve what progress we have reached today.

Though I am grateful!  I am grateful for the strong backs that carried the heavy weight of the Civil Rights Movement.

So I am left to wonder, what can I pass along to the next generation?  What can I remind my parent’s generation so Dr. King’s efforts are not in vain?  In what way can I order my steps in the path of Dr. King?

When I think of a way to summarize the teachings of Dr. King, I am left with the simple and too often overlooked concept of civility.

Simple notions of thoughtfulness, kindness, care, consideration, courtesy, acknowledgment, respect and decency… notions we grasp very early as young children.

Complex concepts of justice, equality, morality, citizenship and peace… concepts that are debated each day in classrooms, courtrooms and congregations.

These are all keys to ensuring that the work of Dr. King and others in the Civil Rights Movement are not in vain.

For when we order our steps in civility, we truly pay homage to the undeniable truth that we are all interconnected… bound by humanity.

Still too often our headlines are freshly riddled with news of violence, hate, suffering, misunderstandings gone too far. 

The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.”  I truly believe Dr. King would agree.

P.M. Forni, a scholar of civility at Johns Hopkins University says, “We now live in an age of idolatry of the Self.  We have persuaded ourselves that first and foremost we live to realize our own Selves for our own good.”

How sad! And how true.

We should strive to practice civility in our daily lives, caring for our neighbors, loving one another, championing the causes of justice and equality.  And in doing so, each serve as a testament to humanity in our homes, our workplace, on the streets of our community… each of us, a true testament to the humanity Dr. King spoke of.

And though my message may be simple, isn’t it too often the most simple tasks those we find most difficult to accomplish?

In the name of Dr. King, let us reclaim civility… in our country and in our communities and neighborhoods.

Dr. King fought that we may have Civil Rights, now we must never fail to remember that upholding these rights are our responsibility, our obligation to each other… to be fulfilled through civil actions.

Let us, as a community, remember on this day to practice civility each day, and in doing so honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thank you.