Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Instead of writing another version of the plethora of fluff pieces you will be presented with today I decided to write about what he means to me. He, or more accurately his legacy, was a teacher to me. Let’s explore.
I was a fifteen year old high school student when King was assassinated. Growing up in what I would generally characterize as a racist neighborhood he was a controversial figure and certainly not a hero. Years later it was his legacy and a more highly educated appraisal of his work that made him one of my teachers.
I cared about inequity and basic fairness at a relatively early age and that concern has only increased with age. The first lesson I derived from King was that demonstration/protest didn’t solve problems; it simply brought attention to the problem’s existence. I’m not much of a march/demonstrate/protest person but I’m glad those people exist. They help the cause of achieving equity of opportunity. These days I do my part to bring attention to problems by writing about them. In past “assignments” I was never afraid to voice my concerns in meetings and the like.
A basic principle of King led or advocated actions were that they be non-violent. Meeting force with force not only brought you down to the level of the oppressor but it was a loser in the all-important public opinion battle. In the 1960’s racial discrimination took much different forms in the South than it did in the North. Telecast scenes of the brutality of southern “law enforcement” against protesters turned what was complacent northern public opinion to the side of King’s people. Had it been a street fight northern public opinion would never have swayed to King’s side. In fact, it would have coalesced around the Jim Crow side. Race riots, certainly not a King strategy, only hurt the cause.
King had several famous utterances. The one that sticks with me is, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Basically this means that the right side ends up winning in the end. There may be many losses on the road but eventually we will reach justice. This helps us persevere when we hit roadblocks.
Today’s example is the impeachment of Donald Trump. The current trial may or may not remove him from office. If it does not I would not rule out a subsequent impeachment(s). Then there is the very good, but far from certain, chance that the American people will remove him via the November election. Somehow, in the long run I think the arc of events will end in justice.
King was assassinated while he was helping a labor movement. The day before the strikers marched carrying signs that simply said, “I am a man”. Those four simple words, none more than three letters long, conveyed a powerful message and lesson that still applies today. When we finally start viewing each other as simply people a lot of problems will no longer exist.
If you are fortunate you have many great teachers in your life and a few were in the classroom. If you have reached your fortieth birthday when you look in the mirror you should be looking at your best teacher. There is a plethora of valuable lessons out there; you just have to read about them. The teachings of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are among them.
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