VALPARAISO | Of all Martin Luther King Jr.'s talents, his ability to build bridges between people was perhaps the biggest reason for the success of the civil rights movement, Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas said Monday.
“Dr. King was a master at bridge building. He built a team of great people,” Costas told a group of about 40 who gathered at City Hall to reflect on the famous leader's achievements.
Among those attending were several members of the city's Advisory Human Relations Council, created by Costas in 2008 to promote diversity, inclusion and a nondiscriminatory environment in Valparaiso.
The event marked the third year the city has organized an observance, and officials hope to make it an annual occurrence.
In a 30-minute presentation titled “Embracing Inclusion,” Costas said King was able to forge strong relationships of mutual respect that were essential in bringing about positive change.
In addition to uniting thousands of people around the cause, King worked with presidents, legislators, fellow pastors and the media.
With everyone, he stressed the need for nonviolent action, the mayor said.
When some Southern pastors asked King to slow down because of their fear the movement was progressing too quickly, King wrote them a letter in which he showed “incredible humility and kindness,” Costas said.
King's humility, along with his honesty, consistency and passion, made him a great bridge builder. He always tried to understand others' points of view, even if he disagreed with them, and he embodied a strong sense of justice, the mayor said.
Costas read excerpts from King's autobiography, which describes his growing up in a family “where love was central.” The lessons he learned from his family would influence his entire life's work.
King also was well-educated, enrolling at Morehouse College at the age of 15 and later earning a doctorate from Boston University.
“He was a brilliant man,” Costas said.
That brilliance was evident in a speech King wrote urging people to participate in the Montgomery bus boycott. Despite having only 20 minutes to prepare the speech, it was filled with powerfully descriptive language and imagery. King later called it the most decisive speech of his life, Costas said.
King is perhaps most famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered during the march on Washington, D.C., in 1963.
Costas played a video of the march, which drew about a quarter-million people and at the time was the largest gathering of protesters in Washington's history.
The mayor said King was a hero because of his ability to inspire and unite, and today we should look for the hero in others because everyone has heroic moments.
“Heroes are all around us,” Costas said.