“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person…is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles; Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances. Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it. Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
January 18, 2021
As I consider Martin Luther King Day 2021, I am moved to spend just a little time reflecting about its meaning in the context of today’s unmistakable collision with catastrophe and disaster. One would have to be living under a rock not to know that we are in the midst of unprecedented division, derision and unrest, second only to maybe the times around this country’s mid-19th Civil War. Coupled with this sense of catastrophe and disaster has been the lingering effects of shock, dismay and disbelief that I am experiencing as I look around watching and listening to the reactions and responses of some who I believed to be smart well-meaning intellectually sound individuals. Questioning in my mind, how could they not see and speak out against that which is obviously wrong and wrongheaded? How could they not know that the rhetoric and these set of lies would be cause for this kind of chaos to ensue? And even some colleagues, who don’t quite understand that we are at a cultural inflection point. Something has to change radically right now or we will experience a kind of social regression unseen in modern human history.
I was reminded of these quotes of Dr. King’s, particularly the one regarding courage. Miriam Webster’s dictionary defines courage as the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. And when I looked out among the numbers of people of faith and conscience across the state of Connecticut and across this nation, I believe there are a few of us who are willing to express and live out our faith with the moral strength to withstand these dangerous and perilous times. People of faith and conscience who are unbought, unbowed and free to bear witness to the propagation of Dr. King’s words…“there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular but one must take it because it is right.”
In this moment, courage means that we can no longer sit back on our do nothings or complacently lay in the cut of our “I’ll get to it later” nor can we afford not to be proactive in our response to injustice and slow in our willingness to move swiftly and expeditiously for the cause of dignity and respect. There is so much that is on the line with regard to the progress we’ve made, however, with so much still left undone we can’t give up now.
“Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope unborn had died…” is the beginning of the third stanza of that great hymn, Lift Every Voice and Sing. Reminding me, that there’s no other place I’d rather be than right here right now on the move, on purpose, headed for a place we’ve never seen, but a destination we strive to reach and a social environment we long and aspire to achieve. In an essay, Hope and Despair: Past and Present by my good friend, Dr. Cornel West published in a book of essays entitled To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr., West recounts an historic radio address of then 91-year-old W.E.B DuBois broadcast to Africa from Beijing University. DuBois declared: “I speak with no authority; no assumption of age nor rank; I hold no position, I have no wealth. One thing alone I own and that is my own soul. Ownership of that I have even while in my own country for near a century, I have been nothing but a “n…..”. on this basis and this alone I dare speak, I dare advise… For today Africa stands on new feet, with new eyesight, with new brains and ask: Where am I and why!”
Will we succeed in making the right what has gone terribly wrong? Is there any guarantee of victory or even what victory would mean in the face of the viciousness of white supremacy and racism? Will the gains of progress and advancement carry us into new future for this brand of democracy? I don’t have the ultimate answers to the questions I raised. What I do know is that we are in a moment that we must join in the long tradition of people whose intellect and ability, whose compassion and heart, whose faithfulness and commitment, whose spiritual fortitude and courage continues to be the example for us to live by.
Thank you, Dr. King