This was my winning entry for the 1st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Word from the Mountaintop” Oratorical Contest.
The topic of the speeches was “How can America become great in the 21st Century”, and all contestants had the following quote from Dr. King from his “Drum Major Instinct” Speech for inspiration:
“If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness… by giving that definition of greatness; it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – February 4, 1968
So, without further Adieu, here is the winning speech, written and delivered by yours truly:
Am I my brother’s keeper? Am I my brother’s keeper?
You see, we live in a society today, where we are so concerned about our own welfare, that we totally forget about everyone else. I’m not saying that Americans should not be independent people. I’m not saying that we as a nation should adopt a mentality of child-like dependence on each other. I’m just asking a question, what ever happened to the time when we would look out for one another? How can our nation become great in the 21st century if we don’t even look out for ourselves?
Why is it that today, when we see our fellow American in need, we look them in the eyes and say, “I’m sorry, but you’re on your own”? Why is it that we tell our very own countrymen, “You should have done things right – the way I did them – then you wouldn’t be having this problem, you’re on your own”? Why is it that we walk past the same people in need, every day, never sparing a thought of how we can help them help themselves?
You see, to be a great nation, we need to realize that we rise and fall, we make progress or go backwards, we advance or stay still, all as one country, one nation, one people. I am my brother’s keeper.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve”. What better way for America to become great than for us Americans to serve our fellow citizens? What easier and more effective way to serve our fellow citizens than through caring enough to simply look out for each other?
We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But our modern culture has strayed so far from this basic principle of mutual personal respect, that our consideration of others is laughable at best. This fact becomes very evident, very quickly, if you simply consider the problem of homicide amongst our youths. Among Americans ages 15 to 24, homicide is the number two leading cause of death, accounting for nearly one out of every six deaths of our young Americans.
Why are our young citizens killing each other at such an alarming rate? Why isn’t more being done to stop this problem? Why is it that every parent doesn’t sit down with their children and their neighbor’s children to talk to them about having respect for others, treating people the way they want to be treated, and never resorting to violence? How many more young lives must be taken as other young lives are destroyed before we wake up as a nation and get it? I am my brother’s keeper.
There once was an American soldier. A young pilot, who volunteered to put his life on the line in defense of the country he loved so dearly. He went off to war, where his plane was shot down over enemy territory. Between being hit by the missile and ejecting out of his aircraft, the pilot broke both of his arms and one of his legs. Once in enemy hands, he was spit on, beaten, stabbed, and subject to unimaginable kinds of inhumane interrogation techniques. He was in terrible physical condition, losing 50 pounds over a six week period. This young patriot, however; refused to give up any information other than his name, rank, serial number, and date of birth.
He was routinely tortured, bound by rope into painful positions and beaten violently every two hours. Bones were broken. Teeth were knocked out. Blood was spilled. He was transferred to solitary confinement for a period of two years. Through all of this, the American prisoner of war remained resolute in his commitment to his country.
His dilemma culminated at one point when his captors offered him a chance to go home. He refused. You see, this young pilot was not the only American prisoner being held. As a matter of fact, he found secret ways to communicate and form relationships with the other prisoners in the camp with him. He discovered that a number of them had been there longer than he had, and refused to take the unfair option of early release, when his comrades had no choice.
He was eventually set free, but not before paying the price for the brotherhood he shared. Because of his refusal to be released early, he was imprisoned and tortured many additional years. When finally freed, he had been a prisoner of war for over half a decade.
But he came home with his head held high. He came home with no regrets. He came home knowing that he had done everything in his power to uplift and care for his fellow soldiers, even while in prison. I am my brother’s keeper.
We need more of that of self-sacrificing kind of commitment to each other in America today. We need to do more than just give speeches and host forums, but roll up our sleeves, get down in the ditches, and break a sweat helping each other.
There’s a saying, that if you give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day, and if you teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for a lifetime. But if we as a nation, are too selfish to buy the man a fish, and we as a nation, are too busy to teach him how to fish, how will he eat?
The average American will tell you that he cares very much about others. The average American will tell you that he loves his country and his fellow citizens. The average American will not hesitate to defend his patriotism for this great nation we all love so much. But if you ask this same average American to make a sacrifice on behalf of someone else, his tune will change.
You see, to be a great nation we need to realize that helping each other is not something you do only when convenient. Looking out for your countrymen doesn’t mean that you care about their problems at your leisure. Caring for your fellow man is something that must be done out of love: day in, and day out, no matter what.
No nation can be great, without first taking care of itself. No army can be victorious, without first healing its own wounds. No people can rise to greatness without first caring for one another.
The core thing our nation needs to do, in order to become great in the 21st century, is get to the point where we realize, that yes, I am, my brother’s keeper.