These are troubling times indeed for America and for many places around the world — times that have brought forth an array of human challenges, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, confused, and angered. Yet through the chaos is the promise of hope and a calling for resiliency of the human spirit and courageous leadership.
This week the world is waiting with bated breath for the exit of a president responsible for inciting a riot at the US Capitol fuelled by white supremacist rage — while also waiting for the inauguration of a veteran civil servant and the first woman of color vice-president, who are committed to bringing back order, decency, and integrity to the White House.
It is also fitting that we’re celebrating a man who had committed his life to the undoing of white supremacy and to working for equal rights for Blacks and Native Americans. Martin Luther King Jr. is a clear example of a leader who created his world and was created by his world. He was called forth to lead millions of people, of all colors, towards a fair and just society, where everyone benefits from the promises of democracy — prosperity for all people.
He was a voice for peaceful protest. He taught us that in spite of the urgency for racial justice, we must not allow bitterness and hatred to lead our actions. Instead, we must lean into dignity, discipline, and our creative power over violence. And we must not let white rage lead us to distrust all white people. For many are here in the fight for social justice.
I was in my teens when I first learned about the racist history of North America that began with the genocide of millions of Indigenous peoples and the slavery of Africans, and the continued inequity of people of color. I owe it to my geography teacher, the only Black teacher in my high school,a social activist, and a West Indian like me, who encouraged us to learn about Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Marcus Garvey, Rosa Parks, and of course the Reverend Dr. King. It was then I began to see my identity apart from the dominant culture that I grew up in.
I can’t recall how many times I’ve read the infamous “I Have a Dream” speech, which was delivered directly across from the US Capitol — the stage of this week’s inauguration ceremony. And in reading it again, this particular line jumped out for me: “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
In many ways, we’ve seen progress since that speech. We’re witnessing greater representation of diversity in our elected officials, schools, workplaces, media, athletics, and the arts. We’re not done.
Now is the time, in the wake of the recent surge of American white rage, police violence, and the Black Lives Matter movement, that we must continue the work King started until all systems of oppression targeting race, ethnicity, faith, gender, age, and ability are undone — until we can live in a society that is truly free, inclusive, and equitable for all people.
In memory of King, let’s pay our respects for his leadership, vision, resilience, and commitment to the greater good. And let’s pay our respects for his laying of the foundation for all change agents who came after him, who have inspired us to continue the fight for a just society, so that future generations could live into what he had envisioned for all of us — prosperity for all people.