01/19/10 — It's about service: MLK breakfast speaker is right -- it is about action, not just words.

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It's about service: MLK breakfast speaker is right -- it is about action, not just words.

There could have been no better message sent Monday to the more than 500 people who gathered for the city's annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

Dr. Melissa Exum from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill told those gathered that merely spouting the words "I Have a Dream" was not enough to honor the selflessness and sacrifice of the slain civil rights leader.

Those, she advised, were just words -- and not in any way in keeping with the message the renowned minister meant to send to blacks, whites and anyone who would listen.

Instead, a more fitting honor would be to devote part of the day to service -- and to thinking more about what can be done to make the lives of families of all races, creeds and backgrounds better.

Uniting in the pursuit of a better world -- that is the message that Dr. King meant to leave, she said.

And she is dead-on right.

As we get further and further away from that day in the early 1960s when a young minister gathered himself together at great personal risk and spoke to throngs of people who were fighting for equality and better lives for all people, we sometimes get caught up in the rhetoric and the famous words and forget the most important parts of that message.

And while the pursuit of Dr. King's dream might be spoken of often, sometimes those who are trying to preserve the message forget its true import.

Here it is in a nutshell: We are all in this together -- and making a better world requires us to remember that and to work together to move beyond words and speeches to action.

So Dr. Exum's call was what America's youths-- who will carry on the torch -- needed to hear. Knowing the speech is just not enough to carry on the mission.

And this is an important reminder also for those who were not lucky enough to hear his speech firsthand, or whose experience did not include the struggles, tragedies and triumphs of the civil rights movement.

It is easy to forget when an era becomes clouded in history just how much it meant to this nation.

So, next year, perhaps more of us can answer Dr. Exum's challenge -- to work together to make sure that Dr. King's lessons will not be forgotten -- both in our words and in our deeds.

There could be no better way to remember a man whose first concern was not for his own safety or the quality of his own life, but for the millions of people who needed not only a leader, but a missionary.

In the end, Dr. King would have said, it is all about serving others. And that is a message that is timeless.

Published in Editorials on January 19, 2010 10:33 AM