Rarely seen footage of Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967, where he delivered his speech “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?”
“Thank you very kindly. Principal, Mr. Williams, Members of the faculty and members of the student body of Barratt Junior High School, Ladies and Gentlemen. I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here today, and to have the opportunity of taking a very brief break in a pretty busy schedule in the city of Philadelphia, to share with you the students of Barrat Junior High School. And I want to express my personal appreciation to the Principal and the administration for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to see this very fine and enthusiastic group of students here at Barrat.”
I want to ask you a question, and that is: What is in your life’s blueprint?
This is the most important and crucial period of your lives. For what you do now and what you decide now at this age may well determine which way your life shall go.
Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint, and that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, and a building is not well erected without a good, sound and solid blueprint.
Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is, whether you have a proper, a solid, and a sound blueprint.
And I want to suggest some of the things that should be in your life’s blueprint.
Number one in your life’s blueprint should be, a deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.
Now that means you should not be ashamed of your color. You know, it’s very unfortunate that in so many instances, our society has placed a stigma on the Negro’s color. You know there are some Negro’s who are ashamed of themselves? Don’t be ashamed of your color. Don’t be ashamed of your biological features. Somehow you must be able to say in your own lives, and really believe it, “I Am Black But Beautiful!” And therefore you need not be lulled into purchasing cosmetics advertised to make you lighter, neither do you need to process your hair to make it appear straight. I have good hair and it is as good as anybody else’s in the world…And we gotta believe that. Now in your life’s blueprint Be Sure that you have a principle of Somebodiness.
Secondly, in your life’s blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You’re going to be deciding as the days, as the years unfold, what you will do in life — what your life’s work will be. Once you discover what it will be, set out to do it, and to do it well.
And I say to you, my young friends, that doors are opening to you–doors of opportunity are opening to you that were not open to your mothers and your fathers — and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to enter these doors as they open.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great essayist, said in a lecture in 1871, “If a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”
This hasn’t always been true — but it will become increasingly true, and so I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil; I would say to you, don’t drop out of school. I understand all of the sociological reasons why we drop out of school, but I urge you that in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you’re forced to live so often, with intolerable conditions — stay in school.
And when you discover what you are gonna be in life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. And just don’t set out to do a good Negro job, but do a good job that anybody could do. Don’t set out to be a good Negro doctor, or a good Negro lawyer or a good Negro school teacher or a good Negro preacher or a good Negro barber or a beautician or a good Negro skilled laborer. For if you set out to do that, you have already flunked your matriculation exam into the University of Integration. Set out to do a good job and Do That Job So Well that the LIVING, the DEAD, or the UNBORN couldn’t do it any better.
If it falls 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. 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. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail.
If you can’t be a sun, be a star.
For it isn’t by size that you win or you fail.
Be the BEST of whatever you are.”
“Finally, in your life’s blueprint, must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love, and justice. Well life, for none of us, has been a crystal stair, but we must keep moving, we must keep going!
If you can’t fly, run.
If you can’t run, walk.
If you can’t walk, crawl,
but by all means, keep moving!”
— From the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.