Honoring Dr. King

The people pictured behind Dr. King are (left to right): Bernard Lee, special assistant to Dr. King; Charles Cox, the chair of the Students' Association Academic Committee (now called the Student Senate); Bert Moore, vice president of the SMU Students' Association; and Sanford Coon, Perkins School of Theology student.

Dear SMU Community,

After almost four decades, it can be easy to view Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as just another day off – a chance to sleep in, catch up on pressing work or gather with friends. But if we take a good look at the state of our communities and our country, perhaps we should recommit ourselves to one of the defining principles of Dr. King’s life and works: the call to connection.

Not long after leading the boycott that forced the integration of buses in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King was determined to root the historic achievement for Black Americans in terms that bound us together. He was passionate about the importance of the moment’s achievement for all the citizens of Montgomery, telling his audience, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Sixty-five years after he spoke those words, his question meets us at yet another challenging time in our lives together as Americans.

It is clear that our patience with one another is waning after two years of constant vigilance, debates, anger and fear related to the pandemic. Engaging our neighbors in even basic acts of kindness and service seems difficult. Yet, Dr. King’s words should reorient our basic instincts to our higher calling. For there is no better time in our history to be in active service to and with one another.

Many in our SMU community take part in a day of service to honor Dr. King, but let’s also think about service in broader terms. When we vaccinate against COVID-19, we are protecting ourselves – but also engaging in an act of service for those in our community. Joining colleagues and students in activities that foster deeper understanding of our varying points of view and life experiences is one of the primary benefits of an education that empowers us to serve our larger world. A word of gratitude for a job well done or an expression of concern for a colleague who is struggling is an act of service that reminds each of us that SMU is only as strong as our relationships with one another.

Let us all commit on this MLK Day to serve one another with acts of service that build our community not just for a single day, but for all the days to come.


R. Gerald Turner
R. Gerald Turner
SMU President