Having grown up in southern Alabama, I am a product of the civil rights movement. I know firsthand what others sacrificed and experienced in order that I might have the opportunity to serve today as the CEO of a membership organization 38 million strong. I am where I am today because of those who sacrificed to make sure I had the opportunity and the freedom to succeed and make the most of my God-given talents.

We are all indebted to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for his courage, determination, perseverance and wisdom in leading the civil rights movement.

One of Dr. King’s favorite preachers was Henry Emerson Fosdick, the founding minister of Riverside Church in New York City. Dr. King called him “the greatest preacher of this century.”

Dr. King admired him not just because he was an outspoken opponent of racism and injustice but also because he believed in the power of individuals to come together and create social change that makes life better for all people.

Fosdick wrote that “Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.”

“Extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people” — it’s that conviction that drove Dr. King as he led the civil rights movement of the 1960s. And it’s that conviction that drove a generation of ordinary people to stand up, sit down, march on and make their voices heard as they demanded the simple freedoms and rights we are all entitled to under the Constitution.

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It was at Fosdick’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 — one year to the day before he was gunned down in Memphis — that Dr. King said, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late.”

As we honor Dr. King on what would have been his 92nd birthday, his words still ring true. Today, more than ever, we “are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” And now, more than ever, we need to follow Dr. King’s nonviolent approach to combating racial inequality and social injustice.

Civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph observed so many years ago, “Freedom is never granted; it is won.” As we celebrate Dr. King’s life and legacy this year, we are reminded that the struggle for justice and equality is never-ending. We must continue to win our freedoms. We must call on the extraordinary possibilities that lie in all of us to come together to heal our nation.

On that day in 1967, Dr. King was also hopeful. He said, “Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.”


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