Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Remembering Two Great Leaders

April 4th marked the anniversary of the loss of two great leaders. While a few days late, would you take a minute to reflect on these two great Americans and what they accomplished in their short lives and what they still contribute to us even after they are gone?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lost his life at the early age of 39 on April 4, 1968. His "I have a dream" speech (watch it here and teleprompters!) still serves as a means by which we can all measure ourselves as leaders:

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

A great speech, a great speaker, and a leader who embodied vision and sacrifice. And unfortunately, a superb leader who left us too early to see his vision realized.

Another leader, one whom you likely do not know as well, gave his life on April 4, 2003 at the too young age of 33. SFC Paul Smith was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Bush for his actions in combat in Iraq. Would you read his story here and learn why so many still take pride in the courage and leadership of this great Non-Commissioned Officer?

On April 4th we lost these two great leaders, separated by 35 years, joined by the fact that they left us too early. Fortunately for all of us, their legacy as inspirational leaders, as leaders of passion and courage, lives on with so many of us. That legacy, remembered today for their ability to influence long after they are gone, is what leadership is all about. And Leader Business.

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