We celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. today. It’s right and good that we honor his life and vision. I was born too late to have memories of him when he was alive and active in the civil rights movement. I’d heard his name growing up, but didn’t really know who he was until 6th grade. My best friend Fawn and I worked on a slide show about his life. The evils of segregation and the injustices of the time horrified me, but I found a hero that day. And my best friend and I were symbols of the promise of the future; she’s black and I’m white.
I moved shortly after that, and didn’t keep in touch with Fawn. I can’t say how that school project affected her life path. But it did start a fire within me to work toward justice, in small ways, throughout my life. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been a public school teacher, local activist, and writer.
Martin Luther King, Jr. moved us in the right direction. He gave us a vision and started us on the road to reach it. I don’t have to point out that we’re not there yet. That’s obvious. But we’re closer than we were many years ago. And we can keep working to make it happen someday. As King said (paraphrasing 19th century clergyman Theodore Parker), “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Justice will prevail, but only if we stay the course. We can’t give up now when times are hard. There’s too much at stake. Our children and grandchildren need a better world in which they can grow and thrive.
And how do we stay the course? With love, as Martin Luther King, Jr. showed us. Love is stronger than hate, over time. We can love our neighbor, as the Bible tells us. We can work together neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city, and so on up to the country and international levels, to take care of the people who need us and leave things better than we find them. If we see each other as more than labels and stereotypes and keep working for justice, we’ll get there one day.
To quote King again, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.”