On this day of commemoration and service, I have a confession: as a white person, I have not done enough for my non-white neighbors. Yes I have volunteered, befriended, listened, learned, and dedicated large portions of my career to help people who look different from me. As I was reading and reflecting on Dr. King’s legacy in light of the recent comments by Congressman John Lewis, I realized I must do more.
I read the full Letter from a Birmingham Jail for the first time in many years and this quote had a powerful impact on me:
“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season”. Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is a letter that is sadly aligned with the situation in which we now find ourselves on the doorstep of the inauguration and the Women’s March. We can not afford to be moderates. Our only hope for justice for all people is to stay informed, speak up, rise up, and join together. We cannot be silent. We cannot sit on the sidelines. Now is the time for action, for the positive peace that Dr. King referenced so beautifully in his letter 54 years ago. And it cannot just be the oppressed who rise; it must be all of us from all walks of life, all races, creeds, and genders that stand together not waiting for a more convenient season but making today and every day our season to do what’s right. The days of lukewarm acceptance are no longer an option.
“You’ve got to fall in love with your path.” ~Clifton Ross III
On Monday, I went to Eatonville’s celebration of Martin Luther King Day with special guests Clifton Ross III and the Howard University Gospel Choir. Clifton spoke about his challenges getting through college at Howard University and his winding career in music. “You’ve got to fall in love with your path,” he said. I couldn’t agree more. There’s a temptation for us to compare our journeys to the journeys of others. You are unique and so is your path.Revel in that. March to the beat of your own drummer. Enjoy the view. Do things your way on your terms, and love every moment of it. That’s the only work we ever really have to do.
Here’s a beautiful display of the power of music to unite us: the black acapella group Naturally 7 & Jewish acapella group The Maccabees collaborated on a rendition of the James Taylor song, Shed a Little Light, commemorating Dr. King at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This kind of work gives me hope that with all the problems we face in the world, we can stand side-by-side, raise our voices, and make a difference together.