January 16, 2017 our nation celebrates the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Dr. King’s life and legacy is one of the examined life in which he determined to use his faith, intellect, and compelling vision for human equality to improve the lives of Americans. He possessed a clear vision of where he wanted to go and his example called others to follow him towards a beloved community.
I use the terminology “human equality” because we tend to isolate Dr. King’s work to the pursuit of racial equality in voting rights, equal access to solicit businesses, and bus desegregation. Yet Dr. King’s work extends beyond the visionary speech of “I Have a Dream” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Dr. King’s intense vision for the realization and affirmation of human personality among poor Americans, a difficult stand against the Vietnam War, and improved economic situations are critical to understanding his life and legacy. We will be well served to remember Dr. King was not simply an advocate for the uplift of Blacks during the 1950’s and 1960’ but a fervent and prophetic voice to call people to a glorious destination.
It is a difficult thing to be a voice for all persons. In the 21st Century we are drawn into so many directions. A prominent influence is our propensity to be a voice for those who resemble, think, and most recently vote like us. Homogeneity offers a level of protection, security, and identity. It is when the “other” enters our presence, our intellectual assent to advance freedom and dignity for “We the People” encounters profound challenge. When the “other” breaks into our life as a ray of light on our sleeping faces, we are startled from our slumber and have an opportunity to engage in a new morning.
We stand in a morning where we will see footsteps of resistance because a new administration prepares to ascend the precipice of national leadership. We wake up to voices of mothers and brothers who are tired of violence perpetuated in their streets, whether by gang members or law enforcement. We are aware of the tired feet of people who partake a dangerous journey to our Southern border led as hopeful sojourners by manipulative coyotes. The morning light has made us aware of all types of persons who vacillate between hope and fear, comfort and anxiety, solidarity and isolation. As Dr. King asked in 1968, “Where do we go from here?”
This question asked forty-nine years ago, immediately evaluated the situation of the Civil Rights Movement. His leadership along with a diverse ethnic and religious following was influential in securing the desegregation of buses, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and challenging the validity of the Vietnam War. Dr. King realized people-particularly Blacks-continued to suffer economically within their own neighborhoods, despite significant victories. Where do we go from here? Dr. King proposed the movement needed to engage its government and citizens to embrace the reality of a “world house.” Embedded in the question though is the concept of identity.
We are a family. We have a variety of ethnicity, religious faiths, and other social distinctions. Just as a family possesses diversity, a loving and compassionate family manages such diversity for the larger goal of generational viability. Regardless of our social or economic position, we exist as a family within this vast house called America. This is our house and we have an individual and collective responsibility to steward this residence for ourselves and future generations.
Where do we go from here? Embedded in the question is one of action. Dr. King perceived the success of the Civil Rights Movement depended on Blacks serving in greater political, economic, and social influence. In the 21st Century we must ask ourselves, “How will we serve others?” I believe there are many of you who possess great ideas to transform Libertarian, Conservative, and Progressive ideologies. There are men, women, and children in our nation who need bold political ideas which will shape our house to function appropriately in this new morning. Poverty continues to be an unsightly hole in the roof of our house. This economic situation creates an opportunity in which more and more families are discovering their power to make meaningful choices is being severely hindered. Dr. King stated, “if democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity.” It is time we stand in the warmth of our new morning creating new opportunities to improve the economic situation of the disadvantaged. To do otherwise compromises the longevity of our republic.
Finally, we can serve others in the 21st Century by compassionately engaging socially with others. Our country has some relational tensions to address. These tensions possess an ethnic character and in other cases a political character. While I cannot control how one is born ethnically or how one believes politically, I can control how I perceive the other person. You are my brother and sister. We are tied together by the same infinitely valuable character which offers us all dignity and worth. I have my faults as you have your own. Dr. King stated, “there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Therefore, let us serve our “enemies.” We need to walk into this new morning with an intense desire to love the other with such a fervency that heaven itself will stand and applaud.
Service in the 21st Century depends on a compelling and prophetic vision which empowers each of us to love through political, economic, and social means. We love one another through each of these means for the greater purpose of maintaining our national house and above all creating a situation in which all human beings can dance in the morning light of freedom and equality.
This is where we can be headed.