A Time to Disobey


“This is one of my favorite days,” he said. He’s the principal of my sons’ middle school, and he was hosting the Honor Roll Assembly. Each student would receive a public affirmation, a firm handshake, and a certificate. We parents are the lucky ones – the real winners.  We get the coveted sticker for the car.

He said, “It’s my favorite day, and not just because of the Honor Roll Assembly, though that’s good, too. It’s my favorite day because it’s the birthday of Marin Luther King, Jr. We celebrate him on Monday, but today is his actual birthday, and I like to invest these few days in thinking on his thoughts and his contribution to the world.”

He looked into the bleachers, into the rows of adolescents in hoodies and t-shirts.

“Middle schoolers, Dr. King taught us that there is a time to disobey.

“Now, listen, it’s very rare, so don’t go using this as a daily argument for your choices. But let me tell you, there will come a time in your life when what you know in the core of you, what you know that your spirit and your conscience are telling you to do, will go against what you have been taught. That is the time to break the rules.

“You see, Dr. King lived in a time when black students and white students couldn’t go to the same school, eat at the same restaurants, or drink from the same water fountains. And those were the rules.

“But he knew, deep within himself, that this rule was wrong. This rule needed to be broken. And he didn’t use violence to break the rules. He used his words to get the world to think differently. He showed us that there comes a time when the best thing you can do for the laws is break them.”

Mic drop.

I mean, he didn’t actually drop the mic, but he could have.  This man is the best leader of middle schoolers – and their parents – that I have ever known.  And really, is there anywhere a harder tribe to lead?

He said, “One word I absolutely hate: tolerance. We do not merely tolerate each other in this school. That is not enough to make a healthy community. We need to talk to one another, serve one another, be kind to one another. Not merely tolerate each other.”

And then he said, “Middle schoolers, in our school, you are not required to be excellent. You don’t have to be outstanding, or to be successful, or even to be brave. Many of you are all of those things, but we don’t require that of you. We do require one thing: that you are Good.

“You must be good. You must do the right thing to the person beside you. Be a person of goodness. That is who Dr. King was, and that is who we must be.”

~ ~ ~

Thank you, Dr. King.

Thank you for breaking the rules.

May we honor your goodness with a goodness of our own.


Tricia Lott Williford

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  1. This speech reminded me of VP Pence’s commencement address at Liberty University last May. He said, in part, to be ready to be “shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible. We live in a time when it’s become acceptable and even fashionable to ridicule and even discriminate against people of faith. Throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself Christian. But things are different now.

    “Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs. As you go about your daily life, just be ready because YOU’RE GOING TO BE ASKED NOT JUST TO TOLERATE THINGS THAT VIOLATE YOUR FAITH, YOU’RE GOING TO BE ASKED TO ENDORSE THEM. You’re going to be asked to bow down to the idols of the popular culture.”

    • It would be nice if we were asked, but we are not. These days we are condemned, ostracized, ridiculed, and/or persecuted if we don’t tolerate, endorse, and worship to these idols. But Jesus warned us that this would be so. Nevertheless, if we had been standing up against this work of the enemy all along, we wouldn’t face such strong opposition.

      I hope I get to see the faces of those who pooh-pooh God on the judgement day. They’re in for a big surprise.

  2. Such a powerful and relevant message to all of us! It was a privilege to welcome Dr. King to McKinley High School in Honolulu on September 16, 1959 and be one of the two students picked to come up on stage, put a lei around his neck and kiss him on the cheek.

  3. This man is a rare creature, indeed! I hope you will extend to him these affirming comments!

    In a related aside, I watched “Courageous” this weekend (again!) and its message is similar. Teach our young to be men and women of integrity and courage, no matter how unpopular it is. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scolia said, “If you’re going to be a good and faithful judge, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.” I think he had something there.

  4. Wow. What a gift to those kids. And great trust to speak so honestly with them. We’re living in another time when it’s important to speak up against wrongs.

  5. Tricia! Yes. I love for-such-a-time-as-this leaders: men and women who challenge us to think, to be better, to be Good— for the sake of others. Rejoicing with you!

  6. Thank you for sharing these powerful words, that every child and possibly every human should hear.
    Your son is so lucky this man is in his life.

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