Lessons from Leaders in Tumultuous Times

Our school’s Associated Student Body (ASB) is an extraordinary group of people who work very hard for the student body and the entire school. Leadership is one of our school’s values and we deeply appreciate the involvement of these students. I am very proud that our student leaders recently gave up one of their weekends to enhance their leadership skills.

I had a chance to sit in on some of the discussions that students were having as part of their leadership training. During the presentations, Dr. Karl Haden, from the Academy for Academic Leadership, talked about the significance of vision. To illustrate his points, he showed a film clip of Martin Luther King Jr.’s great speech “I Have a Dream.”


During the weekend, I began to contemplate not only King’s remarkable speech, but everything else that went on in the 1960s. For those of us who were growing up in that period, it was a frightening time in many ways.

We had — and lost — three leaders who had great vision: Martin Luther King, President John Kennedy, and Senator Robert Kennedy. All three of them were tragically assassinated within a short span of years, denied the chance to see their visions fulfilled.

We also had a very unpopular war in Vietnam going on during that same period of time which ultimately drew in many young adults. For our students currently here at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, they have no idea what the draft meant. I can remember the evening we sat and watched the lottery. Depending on which number was selected for our birth date to determine our fate whether we could stay in college and universities, or we would have to go off and fight this unfavorable war.

Lyndon Johnson meeting with civil rights leaders.jpg  President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young and James Farmer on January 18, 1964.
Lyndon Johnson meeting with civil rights leaders.jpg President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young and James Farmer on January 18, 1964. (Source: Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Image Serial Number: W425-21)

President Lyndon Johnson, while he did much for civil rights and for programs that enhanced the population (such as Medicare), got bogged down in a war which most Americans no longer saw as justified. That led to a period of massive anti-war demonstrations, as well as fiery civil rights protests. Those of us who were around during that period of time will never be able to forget the burning of Watts and Detroit and other great cities. And how could one forget the massive demonstrations and violence that broke out at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago?

To top it all off, late in the decade, we elected a new president, only to see him leave his office in shame a few years later, when threatened with impeachment for criminal acts in the Watergate scandal.

It is important to remember those times, to remember the tumultuous period when we wondered if the United States of America would survive as a nation. In the end, the will of the people and the desire to move forward kept us alive and brought us out of that terrifying era to a period of stability, an expansion of civil rights, and a reconsideration of the decisions that had condemned so many young people to war. The draft ultimately was ended. The country was able to move on.

Returning to where I began: this weekend’s leadership activities brought my mind to reflect on those three great gentlemen and visionaries we lost in the 1960s. Part of their vision has been achieved. Even though oppression still exists, we also see greater equality than ever before.

I would imagine that Martin Luther King, Jr. would say today that part of his dream was achieved when our country elected its first African-American president.

Robert Kennedy fought hard to help people in need. Today, we continue to fight that battle and continue to help those underserved who are living in poverty with poor education and a lack of services the more fortunate among us sometimes take for granted.

And at least one of President Kennedy’s dreams -- to bring luster to the United States of America and establish it as a world power in the face of the Soviet Union -- certainly came true.

While we are experiencing difficult financial times today, I have faith in the American people that we will come out of this tumultuous period just as we did after the 1960s.

1 thought on “Lessons from Leaders in Tumultuous Times

  1. Joan Yokom

    I watched the entire video clip just to make sure. And yes, it still gives me chills. Thank you for posting it. And I thank Karl Haden for using it as a training tool for our students. The Leadership weekend was a great idea.

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