Kindness and Martin Luther King

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli


Erika took advantage of the school holiday to speak with her children about kindness and Martin Luther King; about what it means to stand up for others, what it means to be kind versus being cruel.
It was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day yesterday, and I realized it was a big subject to tackle with my kids, who are 7 and 4, but I wanted to tackle it so that they didn’t just spend the whole day thinking it was simply a fun day off school, complete with bounce houses and milkshakes. So we talked a little bit about MLK and his legacy leading the Civil Rights movement, and we talked a bit about what “civil rights” means; I quickly found our conversation drifting toward the larger topic of kindness, and simply what it means to be kind versus being cruel. We talked about what it means to stand up for someone who is being treated badly—what they could do if someone at their school was making fun of another student.

At 7 and 4, I am not sure how much of our chat—which largely happened on the car ride between the bounce house and the milkshakes—sunk in, but it definitely got me thinking.  Last year I wrote about MLK Jr’s “fierce love,” and how fierce love could guide us all. This year I’m thinking about that powerful combo of love plus kindness.

Because, kindness.

How simple and how hard and how layered and how powerful a thing it is.

For, if I am kind to my enemies they might still be cruel in return.

If I am kind to strangers they may take offense.

If I am kind to those whom others taunt, I may get met with suspicion.

If I am kind I may be perceived as “simple.”

If I am kind I may be perceived as weak.

But also.

If I am kind to my enemies then one day they may relent.

If I am kind to strangers then they may be inspired to be kind to another.

If I am kind to those whom others taunt, I may show them that there is hope.

If I am kind I may find bravery.

If I am kind I may find strength.

Kindness is not always reciprocated and kindness does not always have the result we hope for (at least right away, anyway). But, Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream and we all should to: for dedicated and persistent kindness to bring a day where a hashtag that says #BlackLivesMatter is no longer necessary. A dream for dedicated and persistent kindness to reach across any divide and move us toward understanding and love. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

What am I doing for others? Whether distinguished by racial differences or cultural differences or geographical differences or religious differences, MLK, Jr, and so many alongside him, have repeatedly taught us that kindness is the currency of a thriving community, a peaceful world.

And so today I am reminded to use his advice to teach my children the absolute life-changing importance of kindness…and to remember that for myself, too.

How will you show kindness today?  


"Kindness and Martin Luther King", The Leadership Program, Inc.

Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.