thinking about martin
This morning I awoke with a heart full of thankfulness and a mind in deep reflection. It is the national holiday marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. -- a day of remembrance for the spokesman for civil and human rights, the advocate for an end to discrimination, the preacher, teacher, prophetic voice lost in August 1968 to one who believed he (or they) could silence a vision, a people, a movement, a dream.
Dr. King spoke of many social and political concerns facing the nation and the world at the time -- war, morality, disenfranchisement, the "unchecked cancer" called hate, "the curse of poverty" -- that were best summed up on August 28, 1963. That day in Washington, DC, before hundreds of thousands from all walks of life, he called for racial equality, for "judgment" based not upon the color of our skin but by "the content of [our] character." The speech, called "a speech of rhetoric" by conservatives past and present, established a benchmark for the country if we were to truly become united.
As I consider the hurtful words spewed by Pat Robertson last week regarding the earthquake in Haiti and subsequent loss of thousands of human lives (words not far removed from those he spoke of with regard to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005), I am profoundly more aware of how far we have come as a nation, and how much further we still have to go.
When I was a child we use to say "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me." But as I became older and conscious of the world around me, I learned that was not true. One word however that communicates both power and oppression is freedom. Freedom is a core value written in many documents and a key component of various sacred texts. While sometimes misused, it is a word and a principle I love.
Freedom is religious liberty, freedom is a right to love and to marry whomever one chooses, freedom is a livable wage. Dr. King once wrote, "There is nothing in all the world greater than freedom."
The images ingrained in my memory from early childhood of the violent deaths of Dr. King and the Kennedy brothers taught me the price that could be paid by those who believe in freedom so deeply that they live on the front line in the fight to secure that precious gift and blessing for others.
Today, as I celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am also aware of the approaching one-year anniversary of Barack Obama's inauguration as the nation's 44th president and the first African American holder of the country's highest office. I remember the celebration of that landmark and the genuine happiness shared by most Americans. But this new picture of America in the 21st century was met with fear and resentment by the political and religious leaders who use race, hate, homophobia and xenophobia to advance a narrow, manipulative "wrong winged" agenda.
I remain hopeful, and thankful, for the opportunity to fight for change... for freedom. As a favorite song of mine goes, "It's been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come. Oh yes it will."
One day we will all be judged by the content of our character. In the meantime, I thank those who carry on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy in the fight for freedom, justice and equality for all. As the late Senator Edward Kennedy once said, "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die." Happy Birthday Dr. King!
Thank you, and Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs - People For the American Way
Yes, Happy Dr. King Day everyone.