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Personal Lessons from the Teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Dr. Vern L. Howard, Chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission welcomes Sean Ryan, President, McGraw Hill School Group, to the 37th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Marade, a parade held annually in Denver to honor and celebrate the legacy of Dr. King.

This January 17th, I had the opportunity to speak to the crowd gathered for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Marade, a march and parade held annually in Denver to honor and celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King. It was a hopeful community celebration.

As we enter Black History Month, I revisit that day with a sense of both happiness and discontent. Happiness for having met such wonderful people, such as Dr. Vern Howard, pictured above, and discontent because we’ve not made the progress we should’ve, despite our inventiveness, our wealth, and our compassion.

Below, I’ve shared a reasonably faithful text of my remarks. Those of us dedicated to the deeply human (and, subsequently, complex) endeavor of education are uniquely positioned to make meaningful contributions, both directly and through the learners we serve, to impart Dr. King’s wisdom. As you carry out the monumental task of teaching while maintaining empathy, courage, and grace, I offer these thoughts for your consideration.


Colorado is home to awe-inspiring natural beauty. Today, in this beautiful land, thousands have gathered at this “Marade” to celebrate the community of all people. We enjoy the blessing of a nation, of a state, of a city, of a community because, in part, 50 people at first and then 50 more and ultimately thousands had the courage to face the fire hoses and the police dogs to peacefully challenge injustice and inspire the conscience of a nation.

Those marches in Birmingham in the spring of 1963 led to Dr. King’s 13th arrest, where while incarcerated, he penned a “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Twenty years after its creation, that letter was mandatory reading for me, and for all of us who began our adult and professional lives just south of here at the United States Air Academy. No matter our background, our religion, our race, or socioeconomic status — all of us were introduced to the universal truths he so vividly described.

His words:

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

When he sat alone in that cell, a little more than three billion people separated by oceans, mountain ranges, ideologies, and economic systems shared this tiny planet. Today, nearly eight billion of us are more interconnected than ever before. As measured in sheer numbers, the stakes have never been higher.

We’ve never had such easy access to necessities of life to nourish the body or history’s greatest ideas to nourish the mind. Our opportunity to elevate the human experience and unite all people in pursuit of the common good is greater than it has ever been for any preceding generation.

We cannot be lazy in this pursuit, however. We cannot assume a happy ending. We must work at it, together. Because there is another aspect to this modern world. No generation has had such ready access to the worst ideas in human history and the capabilities to marshal the ignorant in service of selfishness, ugliness and hatred.

Dr. King’s teachings are a vaccine that inoculate us against this risk and produce anti-bodies we carry with us for a lifetime that not only protect us, but also bind us together.

I want to share three lessons I take from the great Dr. King:


Ambassador Andrew Young recently reminded us that Dr. King carried books wherever he went. Yes, he was a clergyman. Yet he was also a scholar, an historian, a logician, a philosopher and a poet. We must not place limits on who we are as individuals and our commitment to effective, transformative education is the means to a better collective end.


Knowledge without wisdom, knowledge without action is hollow. What happens behind the eyes must lift our voices and power our limbs. It must propel out of the sterile and orderly classrooms and libraries and into the real world where action brings meaning and impact to ideas.


We inherit the world from our ancestors; we leave this world to our descendants. In between we live, we reminisce, and we dream, often overwhelmingly concerned with the immediate, the local, the personal. We must preserve, expand and extend history’s gifts. We must commit to a legacy greater than that which we’ve inherited.

Education, Experience and Expectations.

These are my personal lessons from Dr. King. They inspire me with their truth, which speaks to my mind, but also their beauty, which resonates in my being.

To learn more about the work of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission, visit its website. To explore Dr. King’s teachings in the classroom, consider reviewing our new curriculum, Civil Rights: A Global Perspective, which allows students to examine the social justice principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. alongside practices of other human rights activists from around the world.

Written by:

Sean Ryan is president of McGraw Hill’s School group, which is responsible for providing PreK-12 educators and learners with programs, tools, and services supported by differentiated pedagogical instruction and purposeful technology. He was named to his position in April 2020 after serving as CEO of Wall Family Enterprise and before that as SVP and General Manager of Fuel Education, where he was responsible for strategy, marketing, sales, implementation, support and product development for the business.

Prior to these roles, Sean was SVP of Sales, Service & Platform at McGraw Hill, leading the School group’s sales, implementation and training organization. His long career in education includes high profile roles at Campus Management, Scantron Corporation and The Princeton Review of Japan. Sean is also a former military intelligence officer, having served in a variety of capacities in the U.S. and abroad and rising to the rank of captain.

Sean graduated with a Master of Science degree in Management from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, a Master of Arts in International Relations from the University of Arizona and a bachelor’s degree in Soviet Studies from the United States Air Force Academy.

Original Article published here.

A Reflection from Sean Ryan, President, McGraw Hill School Group

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