Monday, January 17, 2011

Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is the national holiday celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Fortunately, this holiday is still a day where many people reflect on the lessons that King taught, the actions he took, and the life he sacrificed to bring about a more just nation and world. It hasn't yet been reduced to just another day for stores to put sale signs in their windows and workers to take the day to be consumers. But the myth-making and re-telling of who Martin Luther King was is too often watered down and de-toothed, so on this holiday it's important to think about the full range of what he stood for -- both the struggles that were won and the ones that are sadly ongoing.

There are many thinkers and scholars who will write about the true meaning of Dr. King today, but here's a sampling:

The Meaning of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday
by Coretta Scott King

Dr. King once said that we all have to decide whether we "will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. Life's most persistent and nagging question, he said, is `what are you doing for others?'"

Martin Luther King's Vision of the Beloved Community
by Kenneth Smith and Ira Zepp

Plainly, King’s vision of justice included all the world’s poor -- blacks, whites, browns and reds: North and South Americans, Africans, Asians and Europeans. Economic justice, he held, is a right of the entire human race. He was aware too that securing this right for all would require elimination of the structures of economic injustice characteristic of capitalism.

We Twisted King's Dream, So We Live With His Nightmare
by Tim Wise

Were this tendency to render King divisible on multiple levels -- abstracting non-violence from justice, colorblindness from racial equity, and public service from radical social transformation -- merely an academic matter, it would hardly merit our concern. But its impact is greater than that. Our only hope as a society is to see the connections between the issues King was addressing and our current predicament, to see that what affects part of the whole affects the greater body, to understand that racism and racial inequity must be of concern to us all, because they pose risks to us all.

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