I remember it like it was an hour ago.
About 15 of us plebe undergrads sat and waited anxiously — in a good way — for Dr. Ralph Eubanks to gallop in for our weekly lesson. His classes felt more like a club than a required three-credit business class. His rhapsodic manner and love of learning was the draw and was one of the reasons students lined up early every year to be one of the lucky ones that got a spot in his smaller and limited series classes. This would be my 3rd class in his Ethics series. I was honored to be considered a bit of a mentee.
He grabbed a chair, flipped it around so that the chair back was in front, sat down, and offered a joyful, “Good evening, my Ethics ingénues. Let us become better today.”
Instead of a lecture, that night would be a dialogue. “If you could meet a person today or a historical figure that you consider being one who pursued an ethical code, who would you choose?”
By this point, I resembled the small business school’s version of the iconic Sweathog, Horshack. Dr. Eubanks told me once that my eyes always had that, “Ooooh Ooooh, Pick Me…Pick Me” look about them. He directed his happy gaze at me and said, “Why don’t we begin with you, our spirited Mr. Keyser?”
“If you could meet a person today or a historical figure that you consider being one who pursued an ethical code, who would you choose?” ~ Professor Ralph Eubanks
I asked if I could pick two. He replied, “Of course. I think New Math has its place here.” (his wit eclipsed only by his love of knowledge and his almost childlike gift in passing it on).
I responded that Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King were the two I would like to have known.
They each stood for something. They both died for it. One, MLK, a civil rights apostle from his earliest days. On the other hand, Robert Kennedy acquired his zeal for equality and social justice after being largely insulated from it during his privileged youth. RFK was not an early adopter of the social justice movement. In fact, he contributed to the “investigations” of MLK by allowing FBI wiretaps. But, unlike the rhetoricians of then and now, he let his conscience prevail. He changed. He evolved. He pushed both legally and morally against the toxic status quo so entirely hypocritical to the central vision of this democracy: Freedom.
MLK stayed true. He never wavered in his pursuit of the “Dream.” He knew full well that it was possible and more likely probable that he would not see it realized in his lifetime. But he was an “influencer” in the biggest way. No, not one who sought multitudes of Likes and followers as social media dopamine. He influenced thought, rationale, emotions, and stirred the better Angels in untold humans, black and white. If Dr. Eubanks (R.I.P.) were to ask me that question today, I would answer the same, but ask to add a third. Dr. King’s collaborator and civil rights giant in his own right, Senator John Lewis has become of the most influential thought leaders in my life for well more than a decade now. Prior to his own death in July of 2020, Lewis wrote in his new book, Carry On: Reflections for a New Generation, what he would say to MLK today.
“We’ve been remembering your example and listening to your words. We can still hear you. I hear you every day.” ~ John Lewis
“I would catch him up on this year 2020 especially and say, ‘Look at the progress we’ve made and look at the work we still have to do’ “ He went on to say, “We’ve been remembering your example and listening to your words. We can still hear you. I hear you every day.”
On the day of Dr. King’s assassination, Robert Kennedy spoke to a crowd in Indianapolis. Unscripted and without rehearsal, he said, “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black…So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love–a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.”
“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy
And from the man whose day this is — “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” ~ Martin Luther King
Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King. For your words of inspiration; for your works to improve humanity; for your tireless campaign for justice and civil rights; and for a legacy that I hope and pray is honored and continues to lead to a better society. I will gladly walk those miles with you and for you.
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” ~ Martin Luther King