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In his footsteps: Younger generation looks to King as model

Jan. 23, 2004

A Special Report By United Methodist News Service*

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has been gone for 36 years, but his words and actions still inspire today's young people.

Leon Franklin, a seminary student at Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, and Stephanie Clark, a 16-year-old high school student in Nashville, Tenn., agree King has had a big impact on their lives.

"I'd say every last one of us, whether we know it or not, we're walking in his footsteps," Franklin says.

"He's (King) influenced me to think of the way I would want to change the world and the way people think of each other," Clark says.

Franklin describes himself as a "25-year-old African-American male. A Christian. A brother. A son. A person who is in constant and evolving search for truth."

Clark, a junior attending Nashville's Martin Luther King Magnet School, has studied and written papers on King since she was in fifth grade.

When Franklin was in elementary school, King's birthday was not yet a national holiday. Clark on the other hand, has always grown up celebrating his birthday.

King's "I have a dream" speech, delivered in 1963, is the first thing Franklin remembers hearing about the civil rights leader while in elementary school.

"I remember the ethos of him and his voice, his speech, the way he carried himself.

"When you're raised in the black church, especially, you identify with King as a preacher first and foremost," Franklin says. But he also thinks of the man as a scholar and a profound thinker.

"When we look at his writings and those who he researched to come to the conclusions that he did, that's tremendously inspirational for me. Just because you're a person of faith doesn't mean you're not a thinker."

Clark believes King cared about the principle of every person being created equal, "that we should all live together in harmony with each other."

Franklin is concerned that people put King on a pedestal that he never would have wanted.

"King was constantly reconstructing, redefining, revisioning, redreaming," Franklin adds.

If given the chance to sit down with King today, Franklin would ask where the civil rights leader would see the country in 20 years. Franklin would also talk to him about music, films and books.

"I'd like to hear from him about the songs that really inspired him because they can do more for the spirit and the soul than even words," he says.

Clark would like to thank King for his contributions.

"I would probably congratulate him on the wonderful job he did in shaping our country. If it wasn't for his dream and the legacy he left, I wouldn't have the friends I have and the different possibilities that I have in life to work with people from countries throughout the world." Clark explains that her friends at school are a diverse group.

King had friends from different cultures and faith backgrounds, Franklin points out.

"In my experience in the United Methodist Church, I've had a wealth of experience interacting and encountering people from various cultures, various traditions and have learned to be in community with them.

"I would say King's idea of the beloved community, a multicultural community, a diverse community, is possible."

* This report was written by UMNS staff writers Kathy Gilbert and Linda Green. "In His Footsteps" is a special report featuring contributions from the entire UMNS staff: Linda Bloom, Gilbert, Green, Laura Latham, Tim Tanton, Ginny Underwood and Fran Coode Walsh.  News media can contact Gilbert at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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