We regret that the Martin Luther King Day festivities were canceled due to the snow and ice that has been slow to melt off.
It is important for us to pause and remember the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We do so not just to acknowledge the struggles and give thanks to the veterans of the Great Civil Rights Movement. Our aim is also to lift up the challenges we still face. Racism still drives too much of our civil life in America.
Our theme for today’s program – had we gone forward – was #ReclaimMLK. Dr. King was a hated man in much of America. The last time that Gallup polled on Dr. King, 63 percent of Americans had a negative view of his ministry. Today he is seen as one of the most revered figures in American history. We remember his “I Have A Dream Speech,” but have buried much of what made him unpopular and threatening.
Kirsten West Savali, writing in The Root, said last year:
How many of us were taught as young children that King spoke out against police brutality? How many of us were taught that he was traveling the country exposing the link between capitalism and racism? How many of us were taught that he spoke out against imperialism and white supremacy? How many of us were taught that he was in the middle of a shift—if not in purpose, then in practice? How many of us were taught that he was a staunch supporter of Planned Parenthood, calling family planning for black America a "special and urgent concern?"
Dr. King died marching with sanitation workers and union organizers demanding just wages. He called on faith leaders to abandon nationalism and to oppose war. Still, we have turned the man once called the “most dangerous Negro in America” into a safe figure we can all rally behind. Dr. King was not safe. He was generous of spirit and spoke out against injustice whereever he saw it – regardless of popularity ratings. Like all of us, Dr. King was an imperfect person, but he strived to create a more just world.
We live in uncertain times where too many people see their lives under assault – people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and those with disabilities. If we want to truly honor Dr. King, that requires recognizing that the issues he confronted before many of us were even born are still problems to be faced today. Our mission as a university is to help create a more “just world.” It seems incumbent on us in this particular moment of history to reflect on where we are as a nation and a world, and how we might do more. Or perhaps we just need to do better. Perhaps we need to more deeply embrace the call to stand up for and lend our voices to those who live oppressed, regardless of the audience and however difficult that may seem. Perhaps we need to examine the words of Dr. King: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” and hold one another accountable for the outrages we witness. In doing do, we fully recognize and more aptly honor the uncomfortable vision of a preacher from Georgia who laid down his life to make us freer.
Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie
Director, Center for Peace and Spirituality
Bevin McCarthy, MEd
Interim Co-Director Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Assistant Director, Center for Civic Engagement