I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech,
Oslo, December 10, 1964
Dear students and colleagues,
I was born in December of 1961 during my father’s last year at the University of Kentucky College of Law. After graduation that following May, my family moved to Hartford, a small town in western Kentucky, for my father to begin practicing law with my grandfather and great-grandfather. My dad served as an attorney in Hartford until he retired in September of 2019. I followed the family tradition and began my professional life as an attorney when I was sworn into the United States Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps on November 7, 1987, six months after I graduated from UK’s law school.
Growing up in a family immersed in the practice of law, the power of words was a common point of emphasis. Attendant to this, the obligation to be truthful was considered an unqualified responsibility. My sisters and I were frequently reminded to always “tell the truth.” The consequences for violating this simple admonition were significant in my family – something I can attest to from personal experience.
Tell the truth. Three words that when put into practice can make all the difference in the world. I fear we have fallen into the trap of thinking that telling the truth is a quaint notion in our hyper-partisan, distrustful, social media-saturated world. We have already paid dearly for this, and will pay even more if we do not place a much higher priority on truthfulness – particularly if we do not prioritize truth in our public discourse.
The quote at the beginning of this message from Dr. King, whose life and leadership we celebrate today, was a direct response to, as he framed it, the “cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction.” Dr. King’s response to that vision of the future was that truth and love would overcome. In the midst of a still-escalating cold war, America quickly moving to direct intervention in Vietnam, and violent reprisals to the civil rights movement, Dr. King saw truth and love as the antidote to the efforts of “self-centered men” trying to tear it all down.
We are confronted yet again with self-centered men and women who would tear it all down – our renewed quest for racial justice, our adherence to the rule of law, our constitutional processes, our democracy. Inspired by Dr. King’s words and example, we must counter their efforts by recommitting ourselves to telling the truth and by reinvigorating our national project of forming “a more perfect union.” And, we should go forward in this work guided by other of Dr. King’s words, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Strength to Love, 1963)
As a member of a profession devoted to the rule of law, as a former Air Force officer who swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” as a citizen inspired by the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I am proud to be part of the Drake community. This liberal arts university recognizes that proceeding from truth is essential to acquiring and sharing knowledge, and prioritizes using our knowledge and understanding to define and promote wise and just action. All of us who are privileged to be a part of this institution bear the responsibility to not blindly accept and parrot the claims of others; but rather to use our intellect to separate fact from fiction and to counter the forces of misinformation and falsehoods. To follow in Dr. King’s footsteps and use all of our power to advance the cause of opportunity and justice for all.
The function of education … is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Purpose of Education, The Maroon Tiger, January-February 1947
This message was sent to campus by President Marty Martin on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 18, 2021