Happy Birthday Dr. King.

You didn't know me.

I was just 5 years old on April 4, 1968, when you were assassinated standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

But sir, you've influenced my life, and made me a better person. My entire life has been influenced in one way or another by you and the peaceful Civil Rights Movement you helped orchestrate with a host of millions.

Thank you.

Dr. King, I don't remember watching the evening news the night you were killed by James Earl Ray while in a Tennessee town to lead a peaceful march supporting striking sanitation workers.

But I do have a certificate that bears your name from my first writing award in elementary school for an essay about you.

Thank you.

I did not listen to the live broadcast of your "I have a Dream" speech during the march on Washington.

However, I'm thrilled that my nieces, who have a white mom and black dad, could grow up in schools where all races attended as accepted individuals, and were afforded the same educational chances as anyone else.

Thank you.

I was not one of the 250,000 arm-in-arm who joined in Washington and sang "We shall Overcome."

But I was able to sing a song my nieces learned in elementary school; "Dr. King was a civil rights leader... Dr. King... Dr. King... he had a dream."

They often confused the words with "he's a civil rights rider," but it meant the same.

Thank you.

I was not yet born in 1955 when the Montgomery Bus Boycott took place. Nor when Rosa Parks, a black woman, refused to give up her seat to a white man.

But I'm glad the action led to major sit-ins around the country.

Thanks to those sit-ins and non violent actions, my brother-in-law, who is black, can ride any bus he chooses, in any seat he chooses.

My brother-in-law is also welcome to sit at the counter front table of the restaurant he works at, without fear of police arrest, racial harassment or vicious dogs tearing at his flesh.

Thank you.

I was an adult when I read your "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," trying to explain your actions to southern white Christian leaders, after being arrested for non-violent protests.

Those actions you tried to explain helped my uncle, years later, marry the woman he loved, who happened to be black. The action also helped lead to the birth of their daughter, without hospital protests, special rooms for "Coloreds Only" and vilified looks from medical staff. Thank you.

I wasn't at the marches on Selma or Washington nor was I able to join arms as Peter, Paul and Mary sang of freedom blowing in the wind, but I've been moved by the videos and music.

Thank you.

Rev. King, I never attended a service at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church where you were co-pastor with your dad.

But I'm thankful for the message of love you preached that has stretched across the miles of time to my great nephew, who just turned 8 and his two younger sisters, who have never mentioned their race, or mine, in a negative way.

Thank you.

Happy birthday Dr. King.

And while I didn't get you a cake or a card, I hope I am part of your legacy and gift.

You see, I'm a white man, Dr. King. I'm mixed with some Cherokee and Irish, but most people would simply see me as a white man.

However, you would see me as a man.

That's what I hope to always do, sir. I want to continue looking at people and classifying them as men or women, not black men or white women.

All my life I've had lessons of peace, tolerance, equality and love taught me by parents, teachers and clergy. The same lessons you taught.

Thank you.

Today Dr. King, my gift for your 88th birthday is to continue living by the principles you taught and refusing to accept racism or any form of inequality.

I hope that gift is as important to you as the gift of your life is to me.

Thank you and happy birthday Dr. King.

Email: ttroglen@


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