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What drives you?

Former Colorado House Rep. Jerry Kopel

The acceptance speech by Barack Obama was like closing a circle that began with the “I Have A Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Both were magnificent speeches and the Obama speech was built upon the words provided by Dr. King. Both men had choices to make.

Twenty-one years ago, in 1987, the legislature was in session during the parade festivities on the second Colorado state Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Today, that doesn’t happen. The Colorado legislature had adopted the King holiday in 1984, to begin observances in 1986.

All three House black members, Wilma Webb, Gloria Tanner, and Sam Williams were part of the King holiday march, and were excused. Rep. Tanner asked me to provide the remarks at the mike on the eulogy before the Colorado House.



The night before the address, I still was not certain what I was going to say. After going to sleep, in the middle of the night, it suddenly came to me. I got up, wrote down my comments and without making any changes, delivered these words the following morning on the floor of the House:

Today is a state holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. As on most holidays, the legislature is in session and traditionally we spend a few moments in contemplation.



I don’t want to review the chronology of Martin Luther King Jr’s life. Most of us know it. I would rather consider the choice that he made.

He had found his profession as a minister. He had a lovely wife. His future was secure. All he had to do was to play it safe. But he didn’t.

Instead, he choose to take on a task that appeared so hopeless and against such overwhelming odds.



Some might call it divine inspiration. I prefer to think it was his psyche, that part of him that makes each of us unique.

Did he have fear? Of course he did. He was not a stupid man. The last recorded lynching in the United States had occurred in 1952. But to be a black man who could be placed in a jail in Alabama or Georgia or Mississippi in those years was to be a man in danger of dying. So he made a choice, to give up his security, to place himself in danger because he could not do otherwise. He overcame his fears, and in the process he helped others overcome their fears.

He was not the first to do so, nor will he be the last.

During the Korean War, many of our American boys were captured by the Chinese. Most stayed loyal to their country, to their ideals, despite their fears, their lack of adequate food and clothing. A few chose to collaborate, to accept a few benefits in return for selling out their fellow Americans.

Security vs. danger. There is a choice.

What is the message I got from the life and death of Martin Luther King Jr.?

We only come this way once. And there has to be some driving force that impels us on, other than the accumulation of personal wealth or personal comforts.We have to be true to ourselves, loyal to our ideals, understand why we have been given life, ready to accept our fears and strong enough to overcome them.

If we can do this, we can honor the Martin Luther King Jr. that exists in each of us.


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