A Message From Our Leadership
January 16, 2023

Today is the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, a time to celebrate and reflect on this great man and his nonviolent fight for freedom and social justice, as well as the many lessons we can learn from him that we can apply to our own lives. One lesson you don’t read much about but is so important for all of us is the need to take time to recharge, and it is interesting to learn about the tactics Dr. King used to accomplish this.

During the course of his life, Dr. King logged hundreds of thousands of miles crisscrossing the United States as the drum major for justice and leader of the civil rights movement in this country. His unwavering fight for freedom was emotionally draining and physically demanding, as he recounted in a 1966 speech in Chicago: "I'm tired of marching, … I'm tired of living every day under the threat of death. I have no martyr complex; I want to live as long as anybody in this building tonight. … I must confess I'm tired".

It's instructive to learn of the not-so-widely known tactics Dr. King employed to periodically retreat from the road to rest, restore and revitalize. There were two such remote locations where Dr. King was able to spend time incognito between 1962 and 1967; the historic Penn School on St. Helena Island, SC, and Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.

During his five visits to the Penn School, which was founded in 1862 as the first school in America for newly emancipated people, Dr. King would hole up in a secluded cottage on the edge of the campus. There he composed drafts of his "I Have a Dream" speech and also strategically took advantage of the isolation of the quiet low-country campus as one of the few places in the South where Black and White freedom fighters could meet and plan together. As an aside, please try to find 15 minutes this week to listen to or read the words of his "I Have a Dream" speech. His words, and messages, are timeless, and doing so is something I always find to be motivating and uplifting.

Dr. King's affinity for Middletown, CT, as an off-road respite stemmed from his friendship with a young religion professor, James Maguire, whom he met at a conference in 1959. Wesleyan at the time was a small, all-male, all-white liberal arts college nestled in the Connecticut River valley in the aptly named Middletown. Dr. King traveled to Wesleyan as a guest of Maguire four times and his visits were low key, refreshingly informal and always involved engagement with the students. On the occasion of one such visit in 1964, Dr. King's hopeful message to the Wesleyan community was: "We can move the darkness of the hour to the brightness of a new day. I have faith in this because I believe somehow that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Learn more about Dr. King's impact on the Wesleyan community.

Dr. King's off-the-beaten-path detours to St. Helena Island and Middletown, during arguably the most intense lived experience any of us could possibly imagine, is both instructive and inspiring. We all need to be cognizant of the periodic respite and restoration necessary to keep going. As we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, please remember the importance of self-care and heed the need to periodically step back and recharge.

Roderick K. King, MD, MPH

Senior Vice President
Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer
University of Maryland Medical System