Good morning, it's Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, the day of the week when I reprise a quote meant to be inspiring or elucidating. Today's comes from a speech by Martin Luther King Jr., born this day in 1929. His address on Oct. 26, 1967, in Philadelphia wasn't about civil rights per se, although he would talk on that subject at Saint Joseph's University that same day and then deliver opening remarks at a "Stars for Freedom" event at the Spectrum featuring Harry Belafonte, Sidney Portier, and Aretha Franklin.
First, however, King delivered a fatherly pep talk to the student body at Barratt Junior High School in Philly. Included in that 20-minute address were words to live by -- for people of any race, of any age, in any era. They are as uplifting now as they were 54 years ago.
Speaking to a nearly all-black student body, King prefaced his central message by bolstering their self-esteem, beginning with their skin color, hair, and physical features -- telling them that they should be proud of how they look and embrace the concept that "Black Is Beautiful." But the heart of his message was that they should have a "blueprint" for their lives.
"Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint," he said. "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."
The Rev. King then got to the heart of his message, which is that whatever endeavors they chose to pursue in life they must be determined "to achieve excellence." Opportunities were about to unfold for them, he predicted, that had not been open to previous generations of African Americans. They must aim high.
"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," he said. "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."
Then, in words that apply to all of us -- or should -- Dr. King continued:
"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.'"
And that's our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.