Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered this speech speaking to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967. This speech is also popularly known by the title “What’s your life’s blueprint?”
Below is the full text (edited version) of the speech by Dr. King.
…And help welcome our honored distinguished guest, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Thank you very kindly.
Principal [inaudible], Mr. Williams, Members of the faculty and members of the student body of Barratt Junior High School, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here today, and to have the opportunity of taking a very brief break in a pretty busy schedule in the city of Philadelphia, to share with you the students of Barrat Junior High School.
And I want to express my personal appreciation to the Principal and the administration for inviting me and for giving me the opportunity to see this very fine and enthusiastic group of students here at Barrat.
I guess I ought to start out with a commercial, and that is tonight we’re going to have a great night in the city of Philadelphia at the Spectrum.
I know you’ve heard of that new impressive structure called the Spectrum and I know you’ve heard of Harry Belafonte and Aretha Franklin and Nipsey Russell and Sidney Poitier and all of these other great and outstanding artists. Well, they’re going to be here tonight at the Spectrum and I hope that each of you will go home and tell your parents to be there tonight for this great freedom festival.
And I hope you will come also, for it will be a great experience and, by coming, you will be supporting the work of the civil rights movement.
Now that I’ve gotten the commercial out of the way, I’ll move on and say some things that I want to say very briefly. And I’m being very honest; I’m going to be brief because I have other engagements. I don’t have a tradition of being brief all the time. You know I’m a Baptist preacher, and we can talk a long time, but I’m going to be really brief today.
I want to ask you a question, and that is: What is your life’s blueprint?
This is the most important and crucial period of your lives. For what you do now and what you decide now at this age may well determine which way your life shall go.
And whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint. And that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, as the model, for those who are to build the building. And a building is not well erected without a good, sound, and solid blueprint. Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is: whether you have a proper, a solid, and a sound blueprint.
And I want to suggest some of the things that should be in your life’s blueprint.
#1: Principle of Somebodiness
Number one in your life’s blueprint should be: a deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.
Now that means you should not be ashamed of your color. You know, it’s very unfortunate that in so many instances, our society has placed a stigma on the Negro’s color. You know there are some Negros who are ashamed of themselves? Don’t be ashamed of your color. Don’t be ashamed of your biological features.
Somehow you must be able to say in your own lives, and really believe it, “I am black, but beautiful!” and believe that in your heart. And therefore you need not be lured into purchasing cosmetics advertised to make you lighter, neither do you need to process your hair to make it appear straight. I have good hair and it is as good as anybody else’s in the world. And we’ve got to believe that.
Now in your life’s blueprint, be sure that you have a principle of somebodiness.
#2: Determination to Achieve Excellence
Secondly, in your life’s blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You’re going to be deciding as the days and the years unfold, what you will do in life — what your life’s work will be.
And once you discover what it will be, set out to do it, and to do it well.
And I say to you, my young friends, that doors are opening to each of you — doors of opportunity are opening to each of you that were not open to your mothers and your fathers — and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to enter these doors as they open.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great essayist, said in a lecture back in 1871 that, “If a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”
This hadn’t always been true — but it will become increasingly true. And so I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil. I would say to you, don’t drop out of school. And I understand all of the sociological reasons why we often drop out of school.
But I urge you in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you are forced to live so often with intolerable conditions, stay in school.
And when you discover what you’re going to be in life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. And just don’t set out to do a good Negro job but do a good job that anybody could do.
Don’t set out to be just a good Negro doctor, a good Negro lawyer, a good Negro school teacher, a good Negro preacher, a good Negro barber, a beautician, a good Negro skilled laborer… for if you set out to do that, you have already flunked your matriculation exam for entrance into the University of Integration.
Set out to do a good job and do that job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn couldn’t do it any better.
If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures. Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera, and sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”
If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill, Be a scrub in the valley but – be the best little scrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be the sun, be a star, For it isn’t by size that you win or you fail. Be the best of whatever you are.
We always, we already have some noble examples of Black men and Black women who demonstrated to us that human nature cannot be catalogued. They in their own lives have walked through long and desolate nights of oppression, and yet they’ve risen up and plunged against cloud-filled nights of affliction, new and blazing stars of inspiration.
And so from an old slave cabin of Virginia’s hills, Booker T Washington rose up to be one of America’s great leaders. He lit a torch in Alabama and darkness fled in that setting.
Yes, you should know this because it’s in your own city. From a poverty-stricken area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marian Anderson rose up to be the world’s greatest contralto so that a Toscanini could say that a voice like this comes only once in a century, and Sibelius of Finland could say my roof is too low for such a voice.
From the Red Hills of Gordon County, Georgia and the arms of a mother who could neither read nor write, Roland Hayes rose up to be one of the world’s great singers and carried his melodious voice into the palaces and mansions of kings and queens.
From crippling circumstances, there came a George Washington Carver to carve for himself an imperishable niche in the annals of science. There was a star in the diplomatic sky, and then came Ralph Bunche, the grandson of a slave preacher, and he reached up and grabbed it and allowed it to shine in his life with all of its scintillating beauty. There was a star in the athletic sky.
And then came Jackie Robinson in his day and Willie Mays in his day with their powerful bats and their calm spirits. Then came Jesse Owens with his fleet and dashing feet. Then came Joe Lewis and Muhammad Ali with their [adjudicated] fists.
All of them came to tell us that we can be somebody and to justify the conviction of the poet:
Fleecy locks, and black complexion Cannot forfeit nature’s claim. Skin may differ, but affection Dwells in black and white the same.
And if I were so tall as to reach the pole, And to grasp the ocean at a span, I must be measured by my soul. The mind is a standard of the man.
#3: Commitment to the Eternal Principles
And finally, in your life’s blueprint must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love, and justice. Don’t allow anybody to pull you so low as to make you hate them.
Don’t allow anybody to cause you to lose your self-respect to the point that you do not struggle for justice. However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live.
You have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody. And so you must be involved in the struggle for freedom and justice.
Now in this struggle for freedom and justice, there are many constructive things that we all can do and that we all must do. And we must not give ourselves to those things which will not solve our problems.
You’ve heard the word “nonviolent” and you’ve heard the word “violent.” I happen to believe in nonviolence. We’ve struggled with this method with young people and adults alike all over the south. And we have won some significant victories. And we’ve got to struggle with it all over the north because the problems are as serious in the north as they are in the south.
But I believe as we struggle with these problems, we’ve got to struggle with them with a method that can be militant but at the same time does not destroy life or property.
And so our slogan must not be “Burn, baby, burn,” it must be “Build, baby, build.” Organize, baby, organize.
Yes, our slogan must be “Learn, baby, learn” so that we can earn, baby, earn.
And with a powerful commitment, I believe that we can transform dark yesterdays of injustice into bright tomorrows of justice and humanity. Let us keep going toward the goal of selfhood, toward the realization of the dream of brotherhood, and toward the realization of the dream of understanding and goodwill. Let nobody stop us.
I close by quoting once more the man that the young lady quoted, that magnificent black bard who is now passed on, Langston Hughes. One day, he wrote a poem entitled, “Mother to Son.” The mother didn’t always have her grammar right, but she uttered words of great symbolic profundity.
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor — Bare.
But all the time I’se been a-climbin’ on, And reachin’ landin’s, And turnin’ corners, And sometimes goin’ in the dark Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back. Don’t you set down on the steps ‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard. Don’t you fall now — For I’se still goin’, honey, I’se still climbin’, And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Well, life for none of us has been a crystal stair. But we must keep moving. We must keep going.
If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving!”
Thatha – a major influence in my life is no more and I have a lot to say.
He was mostly my guru, shared all that he knew musically unconditionally – not just with me, but with all his students. He made all of us complete individuals and gave us exposure beyond what we could imagine at that tender age.
He was mostly stern with me, when it came to classes and practice sessions. Instances I recollect that I’d get a share of unpleasantaries for fellow students making mistakes while singing. It used to be a rigourous 6-8 hours session per day. To compensate for his rigor, my paati would pamper all of us with delicacies and gratifying words.
Between 1998 and 2005, I’d participate in singing competitions across various sabhas in Chennai. And, by chance if thatha appeared as a judge, I know I have no chance of winning – even if I gave my best. Fellow musicians in the judging panel would encourage my performance whilst Thatha would find a gazillion mistakes in my performance – starting from the posture, to shruti, to kala pramanam, to diction and raga bhavam.
Almost until my early 20s, I’d blindly follow whatever he’d say. Because I knew nothing other than that. To support his views, my parents would never come in the way. And those years helped me see a person beyond a guru in him – an orator, an organiser, a disciplinarian, a creator, an artist and above all a bhakta of Saint Narayana Tirtha.
Thatha never said words or preached to help us learn things. He’d simply do them in action and meticulously followed them until his last breath – I can assure. Today, in his absence, I connect dots backward and know that there’s so much he has taught me in an implied manner.
He liked being challenged and deeply appreciated acumen in a person and accepted creative (non conventional) ideas readily.
He was one of the early organisers to encourage budding young artistes and would go out of his way to support and help them build a career by putting them in touch with other leading Sabha secretaries.
For those who knew him deep, they’d absolutely adore him for his straight forwardness. Despite his natural traits, he was extremely good as an influencer and loved being around like minded individuals.
From concert recitals, dance performances, stage dramas, harikatha, namasankeertanam, villupaatu, jugalbandis to talk shows, debate sessions, short films, street play, he explored spectrum of ideas to reach out compositions of Sri Narayana Tirtha.
Seen a man of dreams? Yes.
Seen an entire family beholding this man’s dreams? It’s rare. For, its seldom we witness such things.
I consider myself blessed to grow up in such an atmosphere at household. Differing views, conflicting interests, personal opinions will fall short completely when it comes to one subject – “Narayana Tirtha” – where the entire family unites unanimously.
In the recent past, we bonded beyond a guru – shishya relationship and shared ideas across subjects – food, travel, politics, history, culture, psychology, medicine, fitness, architecture. And maybe, this was when, he was more of a thatha to me and expressed his purest of sides with joy to me.
His leaving is irreplaceable but he has given us a purpose beyond our imagination – to each one of us in the family to hold onto and reminisce him in many more years to come.
P.S: His strength and love, V Rajalakshmi, my patti – is currently in loss of words to express what she’s going through. Hope and pray for her well being.
My love for food, eating, cooking begins and ends at home. Mostly with paati’s (grandmom) and amma’s (mother) samayal.
But, if I am allowed to explain further about my gourmet skills, I would like to give some context. We as a family moved our base to Chennai in 1994 and I moved in and out of Madras aka Chennai for various reasons in the past.
Currently, I am a happy resident here – pursuing music and working at a tech-based company. Chennai is home and became an integral part of me for two key reasons – music and food – necessarily in that order.
Rewind 20 years back, I was sent to classes to learn Carnatic vocal and violin. As a kid, every time I identified a raga, I got rewarded with some mouth-watering food. It didn’t stop with just raga identification. In a four-walled room, my gurus became compelling narrators and this gave birth to fascinating stories. As a pampered student in many ways, my gurus, while weaving stories, made me relish a few home-made delicacies. Some include thenkuzhal, javarasi payasam, vazhaipoo vadai, kandathippili rasam, rava kesari, panankalkandu pal, rava idlis, puliyodarai, adai-aviyal, so on and so forth. These experiences enriched my taste – music as well as food.
Thatha, usually comes across as a stern person to many who don’t know him very well. I, for instance, had experienced only that side of his, for he was more of a guru than a grandfather. But, his alter side will explain that he is very child-like at heart and wishes only good for others.
Patti, to me is undoubtedly the best cook in this entire world. I have always believed that she would have become a scientist – if she got the kind of exposure the present generation gets.
Both of them are outwardly frank, sometimes blunt but genuine with their intentions.
To me, my values, belief system, and other useful skills stems from their influences and upbringing.
I can’t stop myself from admiring both of them for being there for each other – although their expression of love is only understood by each other.
Madras is a place. Tamilians are its people. And, we really don’t address ourselves as Madrasis. For god’s forbidden sake, Madrasi is not our language. Tamil is what we call it and converse in.
Idli, dosa, pongal, vadai, getti chutney, sambar, and a brewing cup of filter kaapi is our familiar gastronomy. We also have koththu parottas, vadaicurry, biriyani, elai saapadu and the like to expand our taste buds. We make ways to accommodate and relish pani-pooris as much as we salivate on greek food.
29C, 41D, 21, 27D, 1A, 21H, 21G, 24C has seen travel diaries across all walks of life and can run into endless scripts if one begins to document all of these.
Sivaji/MGR, Rajni/Kamal, Vijay/Ajith are superheroes of Tamil Cinema. End of discussion.
We love our Marina, Elliot’s, Kovalam beach as much as we love the kadalai there.
Amma vs. Karuna is an endless political debate topic for most of us here.
The Stella queens and the Loyola kings are the essence of youth. They are the reason that, we haven’t seen a economic breakdown yet. Such ambassadors of consumerism.
We listen to Michael Jackson as much as we are absorbed to M S Subbulakshmi. Although, when we sing english songs, we are proud to have a strong sense of tamil accent. Because, we are too cool like that.
Last time we checked, the record says that there are as many kabadi lovers as soccer fans. Any sports along beach side or road side is our favorite sport.
Top Gear should seriously consider conducting a special edition in singaara chennai and star all of us for surviving after driving along the bus and auto annas.
If Mint and Mylapore are crowd pullers, what do we describe T Nagar and Tambaram? If Kodambakam and Vadapalani are film maker’s paradise, what will they shoot without Besant Nagar and Boat Club? If Royapettah and Mount Road didn’t exist, where will the city ‘hang-out’?
The city Madras, is all of this and has more to offer too.
Being far away from Madras has only made me grow fonder of the place and realize its worthiness.
Lastly, sweating it out is our way of life. Of course we are epitome of hardwork, intelligence, perseverance, upholding our cultural values. And, we have this great sense of humour that just makes it a huge bumper package – like a perfect pongal/diwali sale offer.