Practicing what Dr. King preached

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

This is the 26th official celebration of the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember the struggle to establish the holiday and wonder what Dr. King himself might think of what it has become.

At today’s MLK Day celebration in Newton, MA, Representative Barney Frank cautioned against making two equal errors as we assess our current reality. The first is to look at the progress we’ve made and forget that there is more work to do. Clearly racism has not been thoroughly eliminated and the principles of human dignity and justice are not fully realized in our society. The second is to look at the work before us and declare the gains we’ve made unimportant. Just as clearly, life in the U.S. is different in 2012 and better in some important ways than it was in 1968. A third way acknowledges the real achievements and the struggle and sacrifice through which they were achieved, and also acknowledges that the struggle against racism, violence and poverty continues.

Dr.  King lost his life working for dignity and equality for working people—sanitation workers in Memphis. In the his last speech, he encouraged the people to work together for justice. “When we have our march, if it means leaving work, if it means leaving school, be there. Be concerned about your brothers … Either we go up together or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness … The question is not ‘If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?’ … The question is not ‘If I stop to help this man in need what will happen to me?’ The question is ‘If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?’ That is the question.”

Representative Frank also reminded us that while Dr, King will be honored rhetorically all across the country today, both he and the movement and principles for which he lived and died will likely be dishonored in practice when Congress opens for business tomorrow. How are we bringing our annual remembrance of Dr. King and the Freedom Movement into our daily practice?

Let’s heed Dr. King’s exhortation in that same speech. “Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination and let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

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