One of the pieces I always give to young people who approach me with requests of becoming avid readers is a very short speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. Six months before he crossed over to the shores of the afterlife, he gave a heartwarming advice to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967. He gave them an advice whose relevance went beyond the largest city in the state of Pennsylvania to obscure places in the world. This piece of advice affects the lives of the next generation and even the current generation. So, I always start new readers or people who want to go back to reading with that piece.
He started by asking the young ones a very serious question. “What is your life’s blueprint?” Then he likened their lives to a building that is being constructed. “Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint, and that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, and a building is not well erected without a good, solid blueprint.
Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.” He then moved to suggest some of the things that are critical to the growth of every young person on earth. First is they being confident in themselves. And this is one issue that is of serious concern to me. At a time when all resources are abounded to us to rise, dare mighty things, and wow the world, that is the time we are so timid in our souls. We lose guard so easily and, in the end, shortchange our lives, the people around us and the world at large.
Another thing he touched on belief in oneself. This I believe is still tied to the first one as it obliterates all fears. Our problem is that fear we put in ourselves so much that we fail to achieve what we could have by trying a little harder. We are too afraid to try valuable things like running for office, to try starting an organization or even try a business idea. We fear rejection, we fear to fail, and we fear to even have the confidence of our own minds. Our generation has forgotten the timeless statement that “failure is the price of greatness” and also “an essential ingredient for a high achievement.” Our generation needs to be reminded of the great words of Teddy Roosevelt who stated boldly that " far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat. "
“Number one in your life’s blueprint”, he told them “should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you’re nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.” He then proceeded to tell them to aspire towards excellence in whatever fields they decide. That they should brace themselves to overcome the challenges that they will have to face and, in the journey, never to lose sight of the many opportunities that will be available to them. Opportunities their parents never had. He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson who stated that “if a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.” He encouraged them to stay in school despite all the sociological reasons and exhorted them to stand for something in life.
He then concluded with an oft-quoted, oft-repeated paragraph that is to me the crux of the whole speech he gave the young ones. He stated “if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” Deep words.
So, I sent this speech to Ramla Seidu, a young lady studying for her degree in Communication at the Ghana Institute of Journalism to read and produce a report on. She enthusiastically read it and in her own words described it as “very motivational.” I reproduce her report below unedited.
At the very beginning of reading this speech I questioned myself. What is the purpose of my life? And I’m sure most of you have questioned the purpose of your life several times. Everyone indeed needs a solid purpose to drive and fuel a successful life. Everyone with a purpose needs to affirm self-dignity, self-worth, and uniqueness. And with these one would not allow people tell them what they cannot do, or they should be. And that is because you know what you’re capable of and the importance of your presence and any stance you take. This is very deep and needs to be reflected on. When one has self-dignity, self-worth, and identity you know what to offer therefore you do not allow people to bring you down.
Most of us lack self-confidence and worth. The reason for which we work tirelessly and offer a lot to people only for peanuts and sometimes even for free. We don’t even notice the fact that we are being used by people who have noticed our worth and fallouts. Until we discover our worth, dignity and uniqueness people will play opportunistic roles to milk the very best out of us and we will in return get nothing in exchange. It goes further to encourage the youth to choose their goals wisely and be determined to achieve it. As time flies you should choose what you want to do and set out to give the very best. There are so many opportunities out there that were unavailable to our parents as the author said. The greatest challenges will be faced as these doors of opportunities open. As we get admission into schools, we yearn to attend let’s be ready to work harder for the best grades, assignments, projects, and others. On the other hand, work might also be demanding a lot from you. That’s when you realize these opportunities come with huge responsibilities that can make and unmake you. Your uniqueness and resilience will open new opportunities for you that you wouldn’t be chasing. Opportunities will start chasing you.
Do not give up on school because it’s psychologically draining, neither should you quit your job because it’s physically exhausting only to chase quick money that will haunt you for the rest of your life. Keep those opportunities as other better opportunities will start finding you.
When you finally realize what you want to do, set all out eagerly to achieve it. And seek to do better than anybody else. Let your can-do spirit lead you. Because if you can dream it, you can achieve it. It won’t be easy but remember when life gives you lemons you make lemonade right? It will be overwhelmingly stressful, when it does, reflect on the purpose of the journey from the onset and let that boost your energy to keep going.
NB: The Writer is a Community Organizer, Youth-Activist, and a Student of Knowledge.