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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Valentine

Content of Character

Intelligence plus character is the true meaning of education. Martin Luther King Jr.

This weekend we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. Many things have been written and shared about the impact he has had on America and the world. I was not quite 8 years old when he died, but his life had an important impact on the trajectory of my life. For this very reason, this weekend has a special meaning to me.

It’s strange how little you remember from your childhood days. I am clearing out some memories and came across some of my sons’ composition notebooks. They had to write a daily entry during each school day. Reading through those notes almost reintroduces the older child to their younger self. Things that were of the utmost importance at the time have long been forgotten by the time they are young adults. One of the things I distinctly remember is watching Dr. King’s funeral on television. We all sat around the black and white television. My mom was crying and asking “Why did they have to kill him”? This was a very different time - before 24 hour television, CNN and other news outlets. This traumatic moment is vivid in my memory.

As a high school senior, I was focused on attending college, but didn’t have a clue how I was going to pay for it. As a “B” student, I was concerned that I wouldn’t get accepted so I applied to 13 schools. (If you read my blog regularly, you know I have a thing for 13.) My parents were supportive of me going to college but they were not actively involved in making it happen. I tried to get help from anyone who would listen. My high school counselor arranged for fee waivers for my applications. It was a big relief to know that I had options (I was accepted at all 13)…now how to pay for it. That same dear high school counselor told me about a scholarship I should apply for. It fit my situation and if I were to get it, I would have most of my tuition covered. It was the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship. Not only did it provide money for tuition, but academic support on campus too. This was truly a Godsend.

Whether my company recognizes it as a holiday or not, I always take the King birthday off. Living in Atlanta gives you quite a few opportunities to celebrate. The King organizers encourage people to dedicate the day as a day on and not a day off. This is such a great way to honor his life. Every year there is an ecumenical service held at Ebenezer Church where Dr. King and his father Daddy King were pastors. The service is televised and when my guys were younger, we would sit together and watch it. Most of the who’s who in Atlanta, and other notables attend the service. Admittedly, it is a rather lengthy service but always interesting to someone like me who has an extra appreciation for Dr. King. (Not so much for little boys).

As the guys got older, we rotated between attending a local celebration and participating in a community service project. One year we heard Mae Jamison speak. She was the first African American female astronaut and the first African American woman in space. One year we volunteered at a furniture bank. People who were transitioning from being homeless can buy and entire apartment of furniture for $25. Volunteering helps keep things in perspective.

I appreciate Dr. King’s sacrifice and those who worked with him to make this nation a better place. Just like the Underground Railroad, it required the collaboration of people from all backgrounds, races, and creeds to make the movement a success. For this very reason, I encourage my three to assess people by their character. You will find tremendous benefits from connecting with people who focus on standards and not skin color. I know I have.

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