What follows is a copy of the blog I posted last year. Due to the impact of what Dr. King had on this country, and all he stood for, each year in this space, on (or in this case, following) his day, this blog will be posted. If only we had more heroes like him.
Last Martin Luther King Jr Day, I blogged about a story that many people know by now. It’s been documented on national television and written about in so many newspapers, if you haven’t heard or read about it, you’re probably in the minority. Each MLK Day from now on, I will post the story in this space because it is nothing short of remarkable - and it involves my close friend and mentor, George Raveling. At its conclusion, I sum up the life lessons that can be learned from it.
In his mid twenties, George, native of Washington, DC was with a few of his friends when they were approached by a man who told them that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was going to be speaking in the nation’s capitol. This was no secret as there was a buzz in the air as soon as Dr. King’s arrival date was announced. Apparently, the size of the crowd was misjudged and there was a need for additional security. Would they be interested? George, who has always had the sense of understanding a great opportunity when one is presented, immediately assured the guy he’d be available while his buddies made comments like, “I might have something going on,” “How long will it take?” and even, “Do we get paid?”
The day of the speech came and George didn’t just get there on time, he got there 45 minutes early. The same man who had offered the gig was impressed and mentioned to George, who at 6′5″, could make a pretty good security guard had he chosen that field, that he could serve as part of the group on stage with Dr. King. George felt this had all the markings of quite an event.
The oratory MLK delivered that day was entitled, “I Have A Dream.” Yeah, that speech. As anyone who’s ever seen the footage of the speech can attest, at its conclusion, the massive audience was at an emotional frenzy. People were applauding, cheering, shouting, crying and no one was more caught up in the moment than George himself. As Dr. King began to leave the stage, George said to him (and as he’s told me on more than one occasion, “I have no idea why I did it”), “Dr. King, may I have a copy of your speech?” At that time, Martin Luther King, Jr. handed George the manuscript (hand written notes in the margins included) that he had just had in front of him. George thanked him, but at that moment, someone else said something and Dr. King had turned away. So George went home and stuck the notes in one of the numerous books he had in his apartment (George has always been a voracious reader and any place he’s ever lived has stacks of books throughout it).
Subsequently, Dr. King was assassinated and stories of all the impressive, life changing accomplishments he’d made to humanity flooded the airwaves and print media. Naturally, the I Have A Dream speech was referred to time and again. All of a sudden, it hit George that he actually had the original notes from that famous speech, arguably the greatest one ever given. He went home, rummaged through his belongings and, sure enough, there they were, in the same book he had placed them.
George began thinking, “These notes are a part of history. They really belong in the Martin Luther King Museum in Atlanta.” He got the number, called, and explained the ordeal and that he wanted to donate this valuable document to the museum - with one caveat. He didn’t want any money; he just wanted for the plaque to say, “Notes donated by George H. Raveling.” As incredible as it sounds, the voice on the other end not only refused, but became somewhat indignant, lecturing George that he really didn’t have anything to do with the notes and turned down his request. George is as reasonable as the next guy, as well as quite a bit brighter, so once again, he attempted to get the man to understand he didn’t want the plaque to say, “Written by George H. Raveling,” only that he had donated them. The museum rep couldn’t be budged, even telling George the notes weren’t his, to which Rav replied, “Then how come I’m holding them in my hand?” Shortly thereafter, the call was terminated and, to this day, George has the I Have A Dream notes safely stored away.
By the way, I believe the last offer George told he received for the notes was three million dollars, but because he understands the significance of what they stand for, he refuses to sell. At USC, we would bring them out when we had a big recruiting weekend and seeing the notes, now framed under glass, makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, even if you don’t have any hair. You realize you are in the presence of a major historical document, one which possibly explained the civil rights movement better than anything else and, in turn, did more to open people’s minds to what a brighter future the country could have.
There are lessons to be learned from all stories and this one has several.
1) When presented with an opportunity, seize it. Worry about what minor inconveniences it may cause at a later date.
2) When you’re supposed to be somewhere, don’t just get there on time; get there early.
3) Lose your inhibitions. If, at the conclusion of that speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. had said to the crowd, “Is there anyone out there who’d like my notes?” do you think George’s hand would have been the only one to go up?
4) Don’t let pride get in the way of a good decision. If George’s request was properly handled, the notes would be hanging in the museum as you read this.
John F. Kennedy summed up his feelings on the subject when he said:
“Every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated.”