Friday, January 16, 2015

Dr. King's Torch Still Burns Bright

Thursday was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's 86th birthday.  For many, it passed unnoticed.  I had realized it, but it was too late to write something here on the blog as I had already been booked up solid this week and had to pre-schedule some posts.

As I sat here though, I felt compelled to write something about the man we lost in April of 1968 to an assassin's bullet.  Sure, time has proven that even Dr. King was not perfect.  Many of those that still try to discredit him today are quick to point out that even the most seemingly perfect people aren't infallible.  History will do that to you.  It wipes away the rough edges sometimes and puts certain things behind others.

I was never alive for one second of Dr. King's life, but I know why he was important.  I can remember as a child the struggle for a holiday to recognize Dr. King.  The battle it took to get all 50 states to recognize Dr. King's holiday just ended a few years ago in 2000.  After all, there are some parts of this country it seems that time forgot, and life is more like it was in the 1950's and 1960's than it should be today.  I wonder what Dr. King might have accomplished had he lived out his years.

What would we think of this man whose life clock stopped at only 39 years of age?  It seems like he must have lived an eternity, but his public life was all too brief.  Dr. King, however, knew his fate.  In that very famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, he knew that he was not long for the world.  The death threats were constant.  If James Earl Ray hadn't gunned him down, perhaps some other crazy person would have.  In 1999, a Memphis jury ruled that the U.S. Government perhaps had a role in the murder of Dr. King.  From a health perspective, doctors said that King's autopsy revealed a man under great stress and strain with a body that revealed more years than his chronological age might have indicated.

Whatever the case, we cannot let his legacy nor his dream of racial equality go.  The current generation is forgetting things or ignoring the past.  I have seen it already this week.  It appears that many young people have no idea what the significance of Selma is to the civil rights movement.  They don't know about "Bloody Sunday" or the lengths that some went just simply to get the right to vote.  They don't know the struggles and strains that the civil rights leaders felt.  They certainly don't know why these things fit into what we're seeing today in our society.

When my father was interviewed for a principal's job in the mid-1990's, they asked him what the biggest problem facing our country was, and he said race relations.  He didn't get that principal job, and he thought until the day he died it was because he gave that answer.

I'm proud of my father's answer, and I think that it continues to be a problem that plagues our nation to its core.  This idea of coexisting is not enough.  We have to have empathy and seek to understand why things are seen differently from my point of view or yours.

The original song from Selma called Glory by Common and John Legend, in my view, is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've heard in ages.  Coupled with footage from the movie, I haven't been able to stop watching it.  It's powerful, and Common says some things in a way that even the most hardened heart against race relations can begin to understand.

To understand, we first must remember.  It hurts.  It's not easy.  It will wear you out when you really think about it.  To understand where we are, we must first remember where we were.  Then, the real hard part is to figure out where we are going.

So, tonight, I sit here, and I listen to the words of Dr. King.  I reflect.  I hope.

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