Sometimes we must take the path that lies before us, to get where we need to go.

On Renewal: Or, “Take The Step That’s In Front Of You”

Sometimes we must take the path that lies before us, to get where we need to go.

I use my observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s day as a time to reflect and reset.

On this day each year I take time to be thankful for the many sacrifices of the past, and to evaluate my life personally and professionally to determine how I am currently fitting as well as how I could better fit into working to continue a legacy of progress.

For me, it’s a day of renewal; of re-commitment to a purpose much larger than myself.

Whenever possible, a very important part of my observance involves attending The Keeper Of The Dream Awards Ceremony at Oakland University, which honors students who exemplify Dr. King’s vision and promote interracial acceptance and understanding on the Oakland campus and beyond.

It was a great experience to witness this year’s award recipients; three of which are students in the BSW Social Work program I was trained in.

I had the honor of being a recipient of the Keeper Of The Dream Award in 2009, and this great honor continues to influence my work and life in deeply felt ways.

This year’s speaker was  actor, director, educator, and student, Levar Burton.

Levar Burton Oakland University Keeper Of The Dream Awards Ceremony

During his talk, he spoke of Dr. King as both man and myth, and the importance of always recognizing the humanity of the people who inspire us.

Interestingly enough, his message sounded very similar to Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s keynote last year, where she talked about how elevating the King and others to an almost Godlike status can prevent us from recognizing the power we have within ourselves to do the best we can, where we are, with what we have now, to make a difference.

During the question and answer period, someone asked Levar Burton what advice he had for people coming behind him in the next generation.

He responded by telling the crowd of his belief that there are no accidents in the universe, and that everything happens for a reason.

He talked about how he originally began studying to go into the Catholic priesthood, but his love of acting led him to the University of Southern California, where he would later audition for, and get the role of Kunta Kinte in Alex Haley’s Roots; which launched a still very prosperous and impactful career for him.

Looking back over his life, Burton encouraged all in the room to take the first step, and to know that the next move would be revealed as time unfolds. He mentioned that he would never have went to school to study drama if he had not first took the step to go to seminary, where he ultimately found out that it was not the path for him.

Burton said :

“Life, like walking is a controlled fall. For a brief moment one foot hangs in the balance, trusting that it will land on something solid. Take the step that’s in front of you. You dont’ need to have all the answers. The best thing you can do for yourself and for your future is to take the step that’s in front of you.”

Faith is taking the first step

While you’re on that path, you will discover what the next right move for you will be. I think his approach applies to life, leadership, and working for social justice in so many ways.

In keeping with Dr. King’s memory and legacy, Levar’s talk reminded me of his quote on faith being taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

So, take the path that lies before you, and while you’re there, if you find that you need to change directions, act accordingly and keep it moving.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW



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I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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