“We will continue to despise people until we have recognized, loved, and accepted what is despicable in ourselves” ~ Jean Varnier, paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr.
Images of 1963: a peaceful ocean of faces, steadfast and hopeful, marching, standing, working for a better future. A short man elevated by his own rhetoric, rhetoric so powerful and uplifting, it propelled a nation forward. The message that Martin Luther King Jr. lived over 50 years ago continues to be relevant today. Some of his dreams have come to pass, but there is much work still to be done.
What we sometimes miss in the images is that the strategy carefully chosen by MLK Jr was that of non-violence. He studied Gandhi, and coming from a Christian background he practiced what he preached. His troops stood their ground, but stood it armed only with the conviction of moral justice, prepared to be beaten, arrested, and killed if necessary, to change the trajectory of history.
How many people can turn the other cheek when provoked? How many of us are able to show love when we are shown hate? How many of us actively forgive our enemies, do good to those that harm us? And yet these strong men and women, people of pride and self-determination, unwaveringly linked arms and bravely faced down the hateful and hostile practices of the time.
I listened to some of the first hand reports of some of those who traveled from Miami to the March on Washington in 1963. They spoke of taking packed food so they would not have to stop and risk being beaten on the way. To make sure they did not have to use the ‘colored only’ restrooms at gas stations along the road, they resorted to Mother Nature when necessary. On the freedom bus they sang the old Negro Spiritual songs of the Underground Railroad for encouragement. They knew they had to be there, to represent all those who had gone before, and all those who were yet to come. To make a difference, and to bring a dream to life.
We are living in violent times. In my neighborhood, violent crime is rising. Young people have been killed, lives ruined by gunshots in the night. Today the injustices may not be as clearly outlined; the enemy may not be as obvious. But it may be time to pull out the strategies and playbook of MLK Jr. once more. Time to dust off the protocols of non-violence to fight an insidious enemy, one which turns brother against brother; that devalues lives, and makes the death of young people seem common place.
We may not be able to make a difference in war-torn Syria, but there may be a community group you can join that will help to change your immediate vicinity. How do we continue to work on the Dream, to turn our society into one in which all of our young men can walk the streets with confidence, unafraid and at peace?
This morning the challenge is to identify what we can change within ourselves. What weakness do we have to acknowledge before we can accept and embrace the weakness in our neighbors? Have we taken the time to imagine the life and the choices that others have to make, so that we can better understand them?
This weekend as I get ready for another full Labor Day weekend of reunions, coming together, dancing, celebrating and fund-raising, I stop for a moment to reflect on a life cut short by violence. It reminds us to make the most of every moment we have, every opportunity to make our own lives meaningful.
One Love Family! To the Clarendon College Family – I look forward to partying with you, and helping to make a difference in the lives of so many. Let us keep the flame burning in the hills of Clarendon!