By John Haynes, Vice President, Human Resources Business Partner
In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking more than usual about the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose life and legacy we celebrate on Monday, January 16. Dr. King lived a life of sacrifice and service – and we honor him on Monday with a National Day of Service. “Everybody can be great,” he said, “because everybody can serve.”
He understood that service and sacrifice, as well as an understanding of our interconnectedness, are necessary to change the world for the better. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” he said. “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be….This is the interrelated structure of reality.” Dr. King believed we are responsible for one another, and that sacrifice and service are required for each of us to become the people we are meant to be.
It is amazing to me that such wisdom came from a man who began life as an ordinary kid born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929. According to a January 2018 Washington Post article, “Before leading boycotts, marches and a national movement in support of racial equality, the Reverend [Dr.] Martin Luther King Jr. was a prankster known as Mike or M.L.” He would frighten people with tricks, worm his way out of piano lessons, neglect his chores, and chastise his siblings. He evidently loved ice cream. He was just an ordinary kid.
Yet this ordinary kid felt summoned to lead vast change and transformation in our country’s, and our world’s, history. He moved the world in a special way, and spent his life doing so.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was highly educated and well-read – and not just in western studies but in eastern philosophies as well. He was also an ordained Baptist minister, whose Christian faith was his foundation, motivation, and inspiration. His spiritual roots were firmly planted; there were three straight generations of Baptist ministers before him, and he was expected to recite Bible verses at the dinner table.
Dr. King was born Michael King Jr. and renamed Martin Luther, after the Protestant Reformer and namesake of the Lutheran Church, following a trip to Germany when he was about 5 years old. I’m not sure if Dr. King’s parents realized that Martin also means prowess, hope, freedom and triumph. Luther means soldier of the people. King means ruler, particularly one who inherits the position by right of birth. So much intention in the name of a young black boy who grew up to be one of our most profound and impactful leaders! The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s parents might not have known that he would need such a name to lead through horrific yet necessary and transformational change.
Can you imagine the sacrifice that was needed to serve the world in a climate of civil rights unrest and inhumane conditions and treatment? In his time, segregation, lynchings, Jim Crow, sundown towns and housing and banking discrimination were normal. Black lives did NOT matter; racism was overt. From historic documents and documentaries, we know that there were constant threats and attempts on Dr. King’s and his family’s lives. The government made him a central figure of investigation, and countless people tried their best to turn him back and away from his dream. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the very definition of servant leadership, purpose, calling and sacrifice.
What was the moment of transformation for the ordinary prankster kid to Civil Rights King? What did Dr. King experience that made him emerge and decide that the pain he would have to endure was worth fighting for the freedom and equal treatment of a people? When did he decide to serve a movement with his life? Perhaps it was his upbringing that was the catalyst.
Clearly, the times were right for a leader of Dr. King’s composition to step in, serve, and sacrifice. Fighting in non-violent ways for our freedom and equal treatment was foundational for him. Throughout his adult life, he sacrificed for what he knew was right, just like his father taught him.
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” Martin Luther King, Jr., told a crowd in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop….I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” Less than 24 hours later, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray.
But his words offered vision, hope, motivation, and inspiration. They suggested that a different, better day was not only possible – it was coming. Not even the thought that he would die before his vision became reality was enough to turn him away from serving the people and the movement that he was seemingly born to lead.
Today, the change we need in this country and in this world will require all of us to live our lives focused on ending discriminatory systems, and old ways of thinking and behaving. I hope you will sacrifice and serve for the changes this world needs. All of us can be beautifully imperfect leaders, chosen to solve problems in our communities or our workplaces. The living sacrifice of service is meant to erase ways and structures and laws that aren’t at all equitable. What’s clear is that the world’s challenges require everyone’s service, and service requires sacrifice. Your hands and feet and minds and your time, talent, and treasures all are needed to make us better – to make us the people that I believe we were meant to be. We need each other to go farther on our journey. There is power and promise in both service and sacrifice.
This MLK Day, I encourage everyone to engage in service, and work toward making our world a better place. My Cardinal Health colleagues across the country will be volunteering that day. As for me, I will be traveling to Maryland to speak with a group of young African American and Black men about leadership, ownership, value and evolution (LOVE) and how they can use these attributes to change and heal lives.
As Dr. King said, “Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.”
John Haynes is a vice president and human resources business partner at Cardinal Health, where he supports various corporate functions, including finance, legal, regulatory, quality, and the people, services and solutions organization. Haynes has extensive executive human resources experience across multiple industries. He recently joined Cardinal Health from Johnson Controls in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he served as the human resources business partner to a group of key executives. Haynes is active in public service, serving as a board director of Junior Achievement of Wisconsin, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Milwaukee, and King’s Academy at Christ The King Baptist Church; vice chair on the board of directors of the Ryan Odelle Mance Memorial Scholarship Foundation, a mentoring program for young black men; and coach with Black44, an affinity group for Black and African American senior executives exiting the Obama administration.