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Purdue student’s MLK keynote: ‘We must not wait’
I’m not excited about transcribing speeches. Exception made for what Natalie Murdock, a Purdue grad student, had to say Monday
Thanks this morning to Based in Lafayette reporting project sponsor Stuart & Branigin for support to help make this edition possible.
By the end of the Tippecanoe County Public Library’s annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work, moved to the Long Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Lafayette Monday to let people spread out to deal with pandemic protocols, librarian Jos Holman was encouraging everyone that this was a time to activate.
“Go and do,” Holman said, after a morning of poems and before the closing stanzas of “We Shall Overcome.” “This is our community, y’all. And if we don’t do it, because we live in this community, who is going to do so?”
Really, Holman – who said he’d stressed about whether the pandemic would cancel the MLK Day commemoration for a second consecutive year – was set up by a keynote delivered minutes before by Purdue grad student Natalie Murdock.
I went thinking I’d pare down some of the essentials. Murdock’s talk had me thinking twice.
So you’re going to get the bulk of what she had to say Monday morning about short lives and getting to it. Go and do, as Holman said.
Murdock, who earned a bachelor’s degree at Purdue, is in the final semester of work toward a master’s degree in public health. She spent four years as a student coordinator for the Black Voices of Inspiration, a choral group tied to Purdue’s Black Cultural Center. She’s the host of a podcast called “Another Day, Another Chance” and plans to attend seminary after she graduates this spring.
I’ll put a link to the full speech below. But here are extended excerpts from one person’s interpretation of the day and how it translates to going and doing – well worth a transcription.
“When I began to write this speech, I was thinking a lot about how long Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived. I was reflecting on this a lot, because some of us would say he died early. He died at the age of 39. And I just could not release the thought of how young he was. And so we gather today and think about his life, the work he's done, the way he helped shift the trajectory of American history and the words of comfort he provided to the Black community. I was looking at the work he’d done in the short time he had on this earth. I'm a person who likes to ask questions. So, the question I began to as was, How? How did he embrace the call on his life so well that his impact extended this far? And I realized that examining his story, that he was committed to fulfilling the call on his life, no matter the time, no matter the cost. His drive, his unwavering stance on justice led him to be committed to justice for the community, no matter the cost. Simply put, he was committed to his goal. That’s it.
“As a 23-year-old, entering into what I believe may be the beginning of the prime time in my life, I began to reflect very deeply on this truth, how he was not stopped or concerned by the naysayers around him. He chose to persist. As I prepare for graduation, the question of what's next, of course, pops into my head. Where will I be going? What will I be doing? Who am I? And who do I want to become? What stamp do I desire to leave on history? And what call is resting on my life?
“While I may be asking these questions at this point, in this season of my life, I recognize you may be asking the same questions. Whether you're in a season of transition, or you're planted in a season right now, questions come. The question of what is now and what is next? And how do I want to spend my time? How do I desire to place a stamp? And really, what am I to do with this work?
“And while these questions rest with us regularly, the questions can become taunting. But I want to follow with this thought that in answering these questions, we can use the model of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a framework in understanding how we answer those questions.
“The first thing we can remember is that we must not wait. The reason why I began my comments about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. regarding the age at which he died is because we reckon with the fact that he died young yet had an impactful life to the degree that an entire day has been dedicated to his memory and to the service of others. That speaks volumes about the way he spent the time he had. It speaks volumes about how he did not choose to wait until society said it was OK for him to be all he needed to be. He didn't choose to wait until he was validated by others. He boldly spoke about his beliefs. He just didn't wait. He told us to rest in the essence of the story of Esther, that the call on his life to serve and to liberate the community had been placed on him for such a time is this.
“And this is also true for you and I. And so now is the time to commit. … The need is now. It’s not five years from now. It's not tomorrow. It's not two weeks from now. It’s now. …
“Looking at the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I get it. I get what he was and he is trying to say. I understand that you must make use of the moments we have, not only because we have no idea how much time we have, but because the purpose that rests on the inside of us is needed by the world. The work we are committed to isn't just for us it is needed by the world. …
“For some of us, it's time to commit and for some of us, it's time to commit to continue in the work we have been called to do. With freedom, we have been called to not only for our families but for our communities. You may sit back and you may say, ‘You know what, Natalie, I know this, OK? This isn't a surprise to me. I know the challenge. I've lived it. So, where do I come in?’ And as I mentioned, you either come in at this point of needing to commit or you come in at a point of needing to commit to continue. Because we know the time is precious.
“You may know there's a purpose on your life and that it's time for you to serve the community. You may be tired, though. Some of you may carry the experience of (civil rights activist) Fannie Lou Hamer that ‘I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.’ But I would imagine when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the letters from Birmingham jail, he was tired. He was disappointed. He was frustrated by those that had claimed to support him but did not. Upset that those that he thought carried similar morals turned out to be his enemies. He wasn’t happy.
“But even in the light of friends turning to enemies, the challenge is being presented. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr reminds us that we are not only to invest in our service to others. We are to say it with our chests until our very death. He set this example that even when your community counterparts are not there for you when you get locked up in jail, even when they don't speak up for you when you are trying to walk the walk of making change, to keep on going. Not only was his heart demonstrated through his start, but it was demonstrated in his choice to continue. …
“What I am saying is that when we have a resolve within ourselves that we are going to serve the community through our heart for a specific vein of service, I want to encourage you today that even when it's hard, you’ve got to keep going. Even when our motivation is running into the ground, even when no one sees the progress that you're putting in and the work that you're investing late in that midnight hour, that even when you're scared, you've got to keep on going. Because the circumstances hovering today cannot take away the joy and freedom that is ahead. And the gift is that your choice to remain committed to continue through the hardship will serve your community, even on the basis of empowerment.
“I can't imagine the number of young Black boys and Black girls today that are encouraged by seeing older Black men and women becoming teachers and entrepreneurs and lawyers and doctors, all these things. Your commitment to continue has purpose. It doesn't just extend love and liberation to your present community. But it enlightens and empowers those that are to come. So, I don't know about you, but I definitely believe that that's a reason to keep on going. That's a reason to keep fighting. And that's a reason to keep on getting up, to know that you could have a hand in empowering the next generation. …
“Yesterday, (my brother and I) were having a conversation about purpose and realizing the power that is on the inside of us. And I was telling him, I feel like I'm finally waking up. I feel like I know what I love to do, and I know what I don't love to do. And I'm ready to go invest in creating systems that sustain my work. And while it can be a little scary, I feel ready. And he shared with me that all of that was good. But the real gem is not just waking up to your power. It's never forgetting your power.
“I believe that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood his power. And he never forgot it. That's why he kept showing up. So, you may be asking the question, how do we understand our power? How do we remember it? I want to encourage you to remind yourself of who you are and what you’ve got.
“I’m reminded of this poem I was asked to read when I couldn't have been more than 7. I’m telling you, this poem popped into my mind as I was writing this, so I knew it fit. It was this poem called, ‘Hey, Black Child.’
“It says, ‘Hey Black child/Do you know who you are?/Who you really are?/Do you know you can be/What you want to be?/If you try to be what you can be.’ And it goes on to ask, ‘Do you know where you’re going?’ And ‘Do you know you are strong?’ But it closes with this: ‘Hey Black child,/Be what you can be/Learn what you must learn/Do what you can do/And tomorrow your nation will be what you want it to be.’
“Useni Eugene Perkins, the author of the poem ‘Hey, Black Child,’ speaks truth to power, explaining that once we embrace ourselves, we can create impactful change. We create the change we hope to see through a commitment to serve others and a commitment to embrace ourselves, which includes the power we hold.
“So I'm thankful for the example Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. developed, and I'm thankful for the ability to follow regardless of when we can live no more. Today, we have to make a choice on how we are going to live at all. How are we going to live today? We can't wait. We have to make that decision now. Decide who you're going to be, and be it.. Decide where you're going to go, and go. God has given us power, and my hope is that we will commit to and continue to use it.”
FOR A FULL VIDEO VERSION: The Tippecanoe County Public Library’s Facebook page has the full program from Monday recorded. Head to the 26:30 mark in the link here to catch the start of Murdock’s keynote.
TONIGHT: Purdue will host David K. Wilson, president of Morgan State University, will give the keynote on the West Lafayette campus’ Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture. The lecture will start at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18, in Loeb Playhouse at Purdue’s Stewart Center. The free event also will be livestreamed. Purdue’s Black Voices of Inspiration will perform. Wilson has been president of Morgan State, a historical Black university in Baltimore, since 2010.
Thanks, again, to Based in Lafayette sponsor Stuart & Branigin for helping make this edition possible.
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