Influencers Who Changed Our World:
- Jesus Christ, Son of God - He fulfilled the gospel and brought Christianity to mankind.
- Mahatma Gandhi - He led the Indian Independence Movement; his practice of non-violent civil disobedience inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
- James Madison - 4th U.S. President; authored the Bill of Rights codifying constitutional protection for individual liberties
- Martin Luther King, Jr. - Civil rights activist who challenged the social conscience of our nation; he inspired people of all faiths, races, and genders to demonstrate for freedom.
The newly released film Selma reminds us that no leader or movement can be effective without a committed following. The historical significance of the film centered around the march for voting rights on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL. You can't help notice the emotionally charged sea of supporters who stood with Dr. King in the movie. The diversity of color, faith, gender, and socio-economic status, was powerful.
Was this just a following of people?
No. This was "followership."
Following is initiated by a leader is reactionary.
As the movie detailed the planning and organization behind Martin Luther King’s efforts to strategize peaceful demonstrations, the effectiveness of his followership was evident. His inner circle of advisors and supporters were essential to making him the person we know today.
One follower in particular who had an indelible mark on MLK was Ralph David Abernathy. He not only served as a mentor, but he was his his best friend. Although King was out front, both were leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1955, the two men founded the Montgomery Improvement Association and organized a year-long boycott in response to the mistreatment of Rosa Parks. Like Dr. King, Abernathy faced grave danger but remained undeterred – true followership. Despite having both his home and church bombed, he helped Martin Luther King form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which served as the strategic headquarters for demonstration planning and mobilization.
Ralph David Abernathy was particularly vital in organizing rallies for freedom riders, black and white activists who traveled by bus to protest segregation. Abernathy was arrested with MLK 17 times and was always by his side, including his assassination in 1968. After King’s death Abernathy took the mantle of SCLC and continued the social activist aims of the organization. Most notably he spearheaded the Poor People’s Campaign which included a march on Washington leading to the creation of the Federal Food Stamps Program.
As we celebrate Black History Month, let's ask ourselves, "Are we simply a follower or are we going to actively practice followership?" Men like Ralph David Abernathy and supporters of the movement paved the way for Martin Luther King to transform our nation. Their choice to actively participate and affect change helped America “rise up and live out the true nature of its creed.”
We are all part of organizations – family, school, church, civic clubs, etc. Let’s ensure we are not simply following but rather actively engaging our domains. If we practice this type of followership, then we will have lived with purpose.