Mayor Thad Kobylarz spoke at Library of the Chathams – 2022 Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Saturday, January 15, 2022

Hello everybody. Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day to you all. First of all, I’d like to thank the library for inviting me here today to share some (deeply personal) reflections on Dr Martin Luther King.

As you know, Dr King made the struggle for racial equality and civil rights his life mission. Drawing inspiration from both his Christian faith and the principles of nonviolent civil disobedience, he led a nonviolent movement of civil rights protests, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly impossible goals.

In addition, Dr King lead similar campaigns against poverty and international conflict, always maintaining fidelity to his fundamental belief that human beings everywhere, regardless of color or creed, are morally equal members of the human family.

Dr King’s message is so important to our national ethos and political creed that today, as a nation, we honor him by observing his birthday, January 15th, as a federal holiday.

Here in Chatham Borough, on this day, we celebrate the life of this remarkable man and great American by lighting up our town in the evening with luminaries – which many of you are now decorating.

This use of luminaries to celebrate both the man and his vision is exquisitely fitting.

For you see, the theme of wielding, or being, a light unto darkness is a central one in much of Dr King’s thought. For instance, in a sermon entitled “Loving Your Enemies”, delivered on Christmas Day in 1957, Dr King famously said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

What this powerful (if somewhat imperfect) analogy expresses is that just as more darkness cannot make the initial darkness less unlit (only light can do that), more hate cannot drive the hate from one’s heart or the hearts of others (only love can do that).

In the end, hate will persist if left unopposed. Hence, if you’re going to drive out hate, you’ll need to bring the love, so to speak. Now, bringing the love doesn’t mean you believe as the other party does, or that you must somehow come to like the other party. Nor does it imply giving horrific behavior a pass. Rather, it simply means that you recognize the common humanity you both share, a bond that is ultimately stronger than the other party’s hatred.

The implications of Dr King’s prescription are many, and the nuances subtle. There is much for a philosopher to feast on here, and I imagine many indeed have. But the idea of being a light unto the world, in this fundamentally moral sense, is an inspiring and encouraging message.

And it is something that can be incorporated into our everyday lives in surprisingly simple ways. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Smile, even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Refrain from engaging in negative conversations.
  • Compliment a friend or co-worker.
  • Give others a pass from time-to-time, for they may be having a bad day.
  • Try as best you can to distinguish the sinner from the sin.
  • Select your battles carefully; not every perceived slight or trespass need result in confrontation.
  • Before you judge, keep in mind that you can never faithfully place yourself in the other party’s shoes.

I could go on. But you get the picture.

I will now close with a final quote from Dr King, this too from his 1957 sermon “Loving Your Enemies”. These words pretty much encapsulate everything I have just said:

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

Wise words indeed. Ones that are just as relevant today as when first spoken back in 1957.

Thank you everyone.