Monday, January 16, 2012

Echoes of the Dreamer

Today is Dr Martin Luther King Jr's 82nd birthday anniversary. On my list of 51 things that I am grateful for in this life is that of the life and work of this man.
When I was 8 years old, he was assassinated. I lived in Louisiana with my parents and little brother. What I remember about that day is my mother crying hysterically in her bedroom. I remember my dad coming home from work, really upset and angry. He and my mom were talking and crying together. They turned on the television and watched the news. They gathered me and my brother together and hugged us and told us that "Dr King was dead" We cried too, because somehow we thought that the world as we knew it was changed forever. And it was, but so much more for the better than the worse.
A favorite quote from his "I Have a Dream "speech is this:
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."  
This quote was an inspiration to a generation to strive for educational and personal excellence in their lives. I remember how all of my teachers from that moment until I graduated high school reaffirmed the goal to live according to the content of our characters and to be person of integrity, to be an asset to our families.
So much happened after his death, but the one moment that stands out for me was when African Americans no longer had to "ride in the back of the bus". The South held on to segregation long after the laws were passed. As a kid, I remember my mom paying our bus fare at the front of the bus, but then walking to the back door of the bus to get in. There were only a limited amount of seats and if they were full you had to stand. If seats ran out in the front of the bus for white riders, the bus driver would kick off any black rider to make room. So in response to this unfairness, many African American men started independent taxi services to help their friends and neighbors. They would usually post themselves near bus stops, grocery stores, doctors' offices, etc.

Excerpt from Noble Peace Prize acceptance speech:
But, [he continues] our method will be that of persuasion not coercion. We will only say to the people, "Let your conscience be your guide." Our actions must be guided by the deepest principles of our Christian faith... Once again we must hear the words of Jesus5 echoing across the centuries: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you."   
I have heard commentary over the years that speculate that if Dr King were alive today he would be disappointed even angry with the events of the world today. I don't think so. I feel that the United States is a much better place because of him and his sacrifice, all races can benefit from it. I am happy to have grown up not feeling burdened by the "color of my skin", but I grew up in the knowledge that it was my choice to either be somebody or not, to keep my eyes on the prize.  

What would Dr King think of the "Occupy" protests? Maybe he would encourage them to make more definitive goals, organize peaceful protests that invite an intelligent dialogue. I think that he would have been intrigued at News Week's person of the year was the "Protester".
 What would he think about the conflicts overseas?

Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence
Delivered 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City
Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be -- are -- are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 19541; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for "the brotherhood of man." This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I'm speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men -- for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?
And finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of son ship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them "

Happy Birthday Martin
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