stone statue of leader of civil rights movement in washington dc

MLK: The Sacrifice of One for the Opportunity to Many

This post was originally published on January 15, 2017.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke these words 60 years ago in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957.

As I reflect on this holiday in remembrance of one of the most prolific civil rights leaders and historical figures of the 20th century,  I can’t help but relate the meaning of this quote to the life Dr. King lived himself. He was a brilliant, highly educated, and impressive young man, graduating from Morehouse College at age 19 and obtaining a PhD from Boston University at the age of 26.

Given the time in which he lived, one can argue that he could have rested his laurels on the education he received alone, achieving these rare feats at an extremely young age and as a Black man during the height of the Jim Crow era. He did not need to dedicate his life to advancing the cause of civil rights, so that not only he, but other African Americans, could have access to educational and economic opportunities for advancement. However, that’s exactly what he did, and he paid the ultimate price in the struggle for freedom and equality with his tragic assassination in 1968 at the still very young age of 39 years old.

During an era when segregation was legal and rampant in schools, and employment and housing were outright denied based on race, Dr. King and others persevered and blazed the trail for others to follow. They broke down barriers and opened the gateway not only for themselves, but for countless contemporaries and future generations by achieving historic and sweeping legislation such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1965 Voting Rights Act, and 1968 Fair Housing Act, the last of which was signed into law exactly one week after Dr. King’s assassination.

His sacrifice, along with the many ancestors who came before, paved the way for progress so that decades later, young black children, myself included, could have the opportunity to achieve their highest potential. They embodied the quote and truly answered the call of life’s most persistent and urgent question.

I am sure that without the service and sacrifice of Dr. King, I could not do what I am able to do or be the attorney I am today. While black owned law firms existed in Dr. King’s time, many of these were established out of necessity, due to the routine exclusion of blacks from mainstream firms and other significant employment opportunities. Despite their credentials and qualifications, few employers would hire them due solely to their race, so they had to set out on their own and make a way for themselves.

Today, I am announcing the creation of my own law firm, TMP Law, PLLC,* through this inaugural blog post. Significantly, through this introduction, I recognize and am grateful for the extreme honor and privilege in being able to choose to take on this new venture, not in the least due to the courageous efforts of Dr. King and the preceding generations.

Finally, in perhaps his greatest legacy, Dr. King inspired following generations to likewise answer the call of life’s most persistent and urgent question, which has enabled us to progress and move forward, in spite of remaining setbacks in the current day and age. In light of this, when I ask myself the question, I am never fully satisfied with the answer. Why? Because I understand, as Dr. King did, that others will follow, so there is always a greater desire to be better and to do more, not solely for myself, but for those who come after me. To not only live up to the legacy left by Dr. King, but to model his leadership by influencing and implementing change for not only myself and my peers, but for generations to follow.

*Patterson Justice Counsel, PLLC was originally named TMP Law, PLLC until October 2020.

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