Exploring Human Potential

Reverend King, President Obama and Quiet Change

Posted on | January 18, 2012 | No Comments

Mike Magee

This week, the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. had little chance of competing with the continued debate around who should be the Republican nominee for President of the United States. While that decision may still be weeks or even months in coming, what is clear is who will be running for President on the Democratic side and why he will be running for a second term.

It is in remembering Rev. King that we can best define President Obama’s continued purpose.  President Obama has now fully inherited the moral position of Martin Luther King and channeled it into his presidency. As he strides toward the tough campaign ahead, he likely will recall Rev. King’s approach to  another podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Dr. King’s staff have recalled that he was very satisfied with their planning for the march on that day. Originally intended to terminate at the Congressional steps, the Kennedy administration, which was pursuing the historic Civil Rights Bill at the time, felt this site would be too provocative to members of Congress and lobbied with Civil Rights leaders successfully to shift the venue.

So, as Rev. King shared the same view of the crowds that day along with “The Great Emancipator”, he was pleased, except for one thing. He had hoped that at least 1/3 of the crowd would be white, and by all reports only about 1/4 were.  Now decades later, we remain a diverse nation, on some scales deeply divided, weakened by indecision, nostalgic for “the past”.

And yet, on another level, as we look back a half century later, it is impossible to not marvel at what leadership, personal and individual leadership, can do for a nation, and how resilient and committed are American individuals, families and communities – of all races, creeds and colors.

Of course, as  Rev. King well understood, the struggle is not over. It may never be over. The ‘promised land” will likely always be a bit out of reach. We should not be surprised. This is after all a human endeavor.

Governing a nation is not a simple affair, and legislating is about as messy as parenthood. When you strip away all of the pain and suffering tied to our financial collapse, and ignore all the nonsense and theatrics associated with endless primary debates, in reality, America is finally facing change  head-on. We instinctively know that the status-quo is no longer an option. And we know that change is painful. We can feel it. But even in the midst of that pain, we are beginning to feel ourselves slowly rebounding – ahead of a struggling Europe, and a stuttering China and India.

We may not like it, we may hate its slow and uneven pace,  but we’re on the right track and headed in the right direction. What  Martin Luther King sought, was a better America and better Americans – reaching for their full potential in  medicine, nursing, law, education, manufacturing, energy and the environment and others.

To reach our full potential, we need grown-up leaders who are full bodied, well trained, committed, and empathetic. In each of our individual sectors, we need  voices that have not only mastered their own areas of expertise, but also the fact that their sector is intimately interwoven with all other sectors and with the fabric of society itself.

Our President is not perfect.  Why should he be? He and his wife are human beings like the rest of us. But he is an optimist, a realist and a pragmatist – as was Dr. King himself.


None should underestimate our President’s focus – it is on us, as it was for Martin Luther King.  It has been and continues to be about who we are as Americans, what are our ideals, how will we care for each other, and whether we as a nation will reach our full human potential.

Our progress may be slow, but it is forward facing, not backward. Some of us think we need a change – a new face. But its useful to remind ourselves that new is never old, and change is never easy, especially when your dream is as big as the American dream.

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee.


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