As I pause, breathe, and think about the unconquerable Martin Luther King Jr., I push all thoughts of Autism from my mind today. I believe there’s no greater gift you can give someone than your undivided attention and to try to understand their pain. When I approach a struggle, people in crisis, I try to suppress my automatic thoughts and seek first to understand before seeking to be understood.  True listening is virtually impossible. Very hard to listen without judgment, without pre-judgment, without anger, without interruption, without silently forming your counterpoints – but if you are really trying to understand why someone is enraged or in pain, it must start there.

Martin Luther King Jr. was as multifaceted a human as any that ever existed ~ leader, pastor, orator, activist, writer and more, all at once. His expressions of pain endure not just because they are eloquent but because they are real. He had the courage to do what so many cannot – speak the unadorned truth. Irrespective of consequences. No one has ever done it better in my opinion, though some have done it as well. It has taken different forms ~ non-fiction, documentary, obscene, poetic, offensive, vulgar, mournful.

When I approach a song, speech or other writing I don’t judge the message, or the messenger, in part because I’m more curious to see if I can even understand what s(he) is saying. I appreciate when s(he) speaks with such clarity and candor that I cannot possibly misunderstand. As of today there are a handful of speakers who give voice to rage, disappointment and struggle in ways so extraordinary I believe they will never be duplicated but will, and deserve to, endure.

So it feels right on this commemorative day to reread Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most truthful and persuasive writers of all time. Also to acknowledge those writers who have most influenced me during my life. Some even inspired me to speak in certain ways and use language that I had not thought to do before I heard them. They speak so loudly in my head that I ended up quoting them in different places in my book. Trust me, these people are worth reading, listening to, and knowing, in particular:

* Martin Luther King Jr.: (speeches) “A Time to Break Silence“; “Loving Your Enemies“; “Mock Eulogy

* Ta Nehisi-Coates: (articles) “The Case for Considering Reparations“; “My President was Black“; “Hope And the Artist“; “Letter to my Son

* Ice Cube/N.W.A. – (song lyrics) “No Vaseline”; “Straight Outta Compton”

* Tracy Chapman – (song lyrics) “Why?”; “Across the Lines”; “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution”

* The Stanford Rape Victim Impact Statement (“Emily Doe,” testimony June 2016).