It is so much easier to lionize great individuals posthumously than it is to hear them authentically while they are alive. In American history, if posterity is to be the reference point, one could think such notables as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. sauntered through life appealing to better angels of our nature without any opposition.
Jefferson, Lincoln, and King are inextricably linked to each other in the arduous pursuit of establishing a "more perfect union."
At a time when inequality was the global norm, Jefferson wrote the mission statement for America, making it the first country held together by an idea: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men (and women) are created equal."
Standing on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Lincoln reminded those in attendance, 87 years after the Declaration of Independence, of America's original credo, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
A century later King, combining the ideals of Lincoln and Jefferson produced some of the greatest oratory in American history to move the nation closer to ideals it professed.
King began by recalling Lincoln, "Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation."
Moments later he summoned the spirit of Jefferson, "In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'"
Jefferson, Lincoln, and King stand together as unforeseen allies in creating and sustaining what is commonly known as the American experiment. They do so, not as paragons of perfections, but rather as a human citadel for a perfect idea.
It in this spirit that the third Monday in January is set aside to honor the legacy of King. It is not by accident that "Standing Together" is the theme of Berkeley's third annual Martin Luther King Community Breakfast on Jan. 20 -- a communitywide event based on touching all parts of the community.
The result is an event supported by the mayor's office, City Council members, Police and Fire departments, Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, the University of California, local churches and other community groups.
The breakfast committee was intentional about selecting its time so as not to conflict with other events throughout the day that have committed to a King celebration being a "day on" rather than a day off from work or school.
Berkeley's Martin Luther King breakfast is an ongoing attempt to maintain the King legacy. It is to acknowledge past, present and future leaders who are disciples of that legacy.
In honoring the greatness of King, we also honor the legacies of Jefferson and Lincoln. The radical ideal that Jefferson articulated, Lincoln held together, was fortified and illuminated by King. America is the beneficiary of this unique coalition.
The committee's theme of "Standing Together" is beautifully articulated by the following:
"Standing together is the prerequisite in pursuit of King's Beloved Community. Just as those who valiantly came before stood in places such as Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma, and Memphis, we too stand in an effort to achieve a reconciled world, creating an environment where justice prevails and individuals attain their full human potential."
The community breakfast will be held Jan. 20 at HS Lordships restaurant, 199 Seawall Dr., Berkeley, in the Berkeley Marina, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. For more information, go to www.berkeleymlkjrday.com.
Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.