By Curtis R. Joseph, Jr.
As a consequence of my mother’s military service, I was fortunate to spend some of my early childhood growing up in Germany. Due to the Europeans’ widespread use of the rail system, we frequently traveled by train. Suffice it to say, I soon developed an affinity for that particular mode of transportation. During the Summer of 2016, I was fortunate to share the experience with my children when we drove to Marshall, Texas and caught the Amtrak Texas Eagle to Dallas.
Aside from the gentleman who entered the train carrying what can only be described as a case for chainsaw, we had a fabulous time. And, the roundtrip fare was less than the cost of fuel, had we driven. The train was equipped with a viewing cabin, which afforded panoramic views of the East Texas countryside. We enjoyed each other’s company, and the difference in travel time proved to be negligible.
The train deposited us at Union Station, which left only a short walk to the Hyatt Regency. During our weekend in Dallas, we walked everywhere we wanted to go. Among our destinations was Dealey Plaza and the museum that is located on the 6th floor of what was formerly the Texas School Book Depository.
Although I am a fan of the former President, I didn’t deceive myself into thinking that my young children would want to spend a great deal of time being inundated with information relative to JFK. However, quite to my surprise, the kids were in no rush to leave the museum, the “grassy knoll”, or the plaza area. Like most of us, they were taken in by the aura of a leader, who, despite his very human flaws, nevertheless inspired.
As we rode the Texas Eagle back to Marshall, my wife and I began to debrief on the weekend’s trip. As we shared our thoughts, a particular one resonated in my mind: How vitally important it is to have leaders who inspire. To that point, I recently came across the following JFK quote: “I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.” What an amazing concept! Certainly, many leaders have referenced an appreciation for Kennedy. And many cite him as one who inspired their actions. Yet, he was a relatively young man when he left his mark on history.
Much like JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a young man when he went to Birmingham to address the injustices that pervaded the city. In fact, he was only thirty-four. As it regards Birmingham, this past February, my wife and I took a group of high school students to visit the city. While in Birmingham, we visited sites such as the 16th Street Baptist Church, which was bombed on September 15, 1963. As a consequence of the bombing, four young girls lost their lives. Ironically, our tour guide advised us that the Sunday School lesson that morning was titled “A Love That Forgives”.
The church bombing was one of three such bombings that had occurred within an 11-day span and came on the heels of a Federal Court order that mandated the integration of Alabama’s public school system. In this light, it is seen that the bombings were instituted as push back against the progress that was being made due to the Civil Rights Movement, which was being spearheaded by the young Dr. King. Again, despite their youth, both JFK and MLK were able to achieve great things because they inspired others to be more than themselves.
Although they provide monumental examples of inspiration from the standpoint of iconic, national heroes, trust that the influence of local, hometown heroes cannot be overstated. Due to the fact that we encounter our local heroes and heroines on a regular basis, their influence has the potential to be even more pervasive and lasting. In short, we can actually touch them.
We should also be aware of the fact that we can each live a life worthy of emulation. We can live the type of life that serves as an inspiration to others. Even our chance encounters can leave a lasting impression. That impression can be a good one, or it can be an unpleasant one. We CAN be difference makers should we choose to do so.
In closing, I’d like to reference another JFK quote. During his 1961 address to the National Industrial Conference Board, President Kennedy stated, “For I can assure you that we love our country, not for what it was, though it has always been great…not for what it is, though of this we are greatly proud…but, for what it someday can, and, through the effort of us all, someday will be.” Soaring rhetoric meant to inspire and capture a soaring ideal.