Faith, Labor and Staircases

President Gunderson photoby Greg R. Gunderson, Ph.D.

As our nation prepares its annual commemoration of the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most impactful change agents and magnetic orators to ever live, I find myself reflecting on one his quotes: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” This statement is a favorite of mine because it is profound in its simplicity: even when you can’t see what’s ahead, keep moving and trust the climb.

It is hard to imagine how difficult it must have been for Dr. King—as well as for his fellow human rights contemporaries and the millions of disenfranchised people for whom he advocated and fought—to maintain optimism during the turbulent days of America’s civil rights struggle. There was no tested roadmap for them to follow; no solid assurances that things would someday get better. Still, they kept moving—even when they were unsure about where their efforts might lead them.

This concept is still very applicable today. I am convinced that most of us, irrespective of our varied experiences, challenges, hopes and dreams, can continue to navigate today’s sometimes uncertain world with optimism and grit. Even when things aren’t good, we can’t give up. We have to work until something changes for the better. Keep moving and trust the climb.

So, what does “taking the first step” mean in this day and age? For me, as president of Park University, it means finding ways to widen the doors of access to quality, private, liberal arts education for more students. It means ensuring that Park’s processes and policies align with the welcoming, inclusive and supportive culture we are determined to cultivate. It means adequately equipping Park’s students to become the thought leaders and change agents of their generation once they leave.

What else could it mean for me? For you? For anyone?

Perhaps a “first step” means moving past a mistake—or forgiving others for theirs. Maybe it involves supporting a long-standing goal or dream with action steps and a deadline. It might entail fighting a community injustice or defending someone who cannot defend him or herself. Or maybe it’s as simple as starting the new academic semester with a clean slate, an open mind and a readiness to be present and accountable.

But whatever the focus or desired outcome, taking the first step most certainly means one thing: moving. No one can take a step and stand still. It takes faith and labor to climb the stairs.

Fides et labor. Let’s get moving.

Greg R. Gunderson, Ph.D., is president of Park University


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