Monday, January 21, 2008
Martin Luther King, Jr. -- He Had a Dream...
Today we remember Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist preacher who changed America in myriad ways but did not live to see his dream become as much a reality as it has. Today a black man, Barack Obama is running for President -- and is winning races and offering hope to millions -- red, yellow, black, brown and white citizens all over the world -- as he goes along.
I remember the days before Martin Luther King Jr was on the scene. I was a white kid in a white bread world living in the Pacific Northwest. Black people were rare up here back then. The first two black people I knew were my Sunday School teacher and her son Walter, who was in my class. I adored them, so had no "racist" baggage weighing me down -- and wasn't aware anyone else had any, either. I had never heard the "n" word uttered. Kids have to be taught to hate and to fear and to have an "us versus them" perspective; they aren't born with it.
It was during the school integration era when police were setting fire hoses and German Shepherds loose on "Negroes" that I had my first look at the way racism can disfigure an otherwise attractive white face. I watched on television as white people shouted, screamed and belittled school-age children whose only "crime" was being sent to a school that hadn't accepted black children before. I remember asking my mom, in horror, "What country is this happening in?" I was horrified when she responded, "It's happening in America." It was beyond comprehension to me. "Where?!"
And I began to feel, palpably, on the side of the "underdogs" in the fight. Even when H Rap Brown or Stokely Carmichael would get in-our-faces and scare us with words of revolution and "taking what is rightfully every American's to have", I would think, "If I were black, I'd probably be feeling exactly the same way. Racism is unfair and it's cruel and I'd be mad as a hornet if I were black."
Then along came Martin Luther King Jr., a man of peace and love, a man of the cloth, and I knew instinctively that racist white people would have to take a step back and listen to him instead of becoming more afraid and defensive as they were doing with other spokesmen. Like coming to Christ, a call to conscience cannot be compelled -- it can only be gently offered if it is to achieve a desired goal.
Martin Luther King Jr was the way forward. Because he lived and gave his life in the cause of making sure all Americans were "free at last," today we are a better nation in this regard. Still not a perfect nation... equal opportunity is still a goal to be achieved... but would any of us who were there at the time want to go back to the way it was then?
My friends are now a rainbow of colors, nationalities and creeds. I can't imagine life any other way. When we see all people as fellow sojourners along life's road we realize that everyone wants the same thing: to be loved, respected, and given the same chance to provide for themselves and their families as everyone else. When we deny this to anyone, we deny ourselves all the creative, positive contributions those denied would have given to the world -- and that's a crime beyond measure.
It all comes back to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
What a concept! Why O why haven't we tried this one concept all over the world? Just once, for perhaps a decade? We'd be utterly transformed... and would never want to go back.