No one told Martin Luther King Jr. he was too young to change the world.
Even without the aid of today's digital tools, he led a movement when he was 26. Young and old joined his causes, marching together for social justice and economic equality. Today, ordinary citizens are still reaching across race, class and age, often using social media to demand a world with opportunity for all King once envisioned.
To keep the momentum going, we need to take a psychologist's approach to how we see America's psyche and confirm our diagnosis before we can move forward with a solution. That's how King was able to accomplish what he did, according to Dr. Jennifer Leigh Selig, who chairs the Jungian & Archetypal Studies department at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California.
"His treatment of the country paralleled Karen Horney's treatment of the neurotic: he helped his client -- the country -- to see the gap between her ideal self and her real self," according to Selig's paper, "The Unfinished Mission of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." "He used marches and protests and demonstrations to bring America's shadow to the surface where she could no longer deny its existence, and then... he offered her specific redemptive measures she could take toward healing and wholeness."
Now, nearly 60 years since the Montgomery Bus Boycotts -- when King reenergized the civil rights struggle -- our ways of bringing America's shadow to the surface is a far cry from picket signs and marches. Today's "depth psychologists" -- as Selig would call them - are online, organizing through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
They're getting the word out through Listservs; they're using their email lists to build support around e-petitions that will be sent to government, public and/or private organizations, pushing for positive policy shifts in areas including climate change, arts funding and censorship.
These civic activities would make King proud that the civil rights history is not lost on the youth and older people around the world.
But, like the title of Selig's paper on King suggest, we've got to see King's unfinished mission through.
Generation Waking Up (GenUp) in Oakland is up to that task. The organization's social media and online campaigns drive global movements through affiliates in 11 other countries, mobilizing youth around ending mass incarceration, reclaiming democracy and demanding fossil fuel divestment.
While recognizing leadership roles young people play in creating community change, they know the value of intergenerational partnerships. Right now, they are starting a "Wiser Together Café" in Oakland, a series of three intergenerational community conversations, adapted from the "World Café's model of connecting multiple generations in their community and promoting intergenerational learning and action.
Now, there's a solution that's bound to shift America's psyche. Here's why. If equality is a redemptive measure, then what better way to show the country how it's done than using a great equalizer: service to others.
King certainly would agree with that. "Everyone can be great because anyone can serve," he once said. "You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."
The generated love of young and old is also expressed at the Digital Clubhouse Network with locations in both New York City and Silicon Valley.
Recently, the Network's been involved in a movement to establish a national day in August that honors the men and women of the World War II era. "What sometimes is forgotten is that that generation was a very progressive era," said Warren Hegg, founder and president of the Digital Clubhouse Network. "People like the Tuskegee Airmen, the Japanese-Americans and the women who came into the factories -- they demonstrated how strong we were when we all worked together."
The Digital Clubhouse is trying to recapture that spirit through the Stories of Service, their flagship intergenerational digital storytelling that merges oral history with new technologies, bringing people together in a collaborative environment.
I couldn't agree more with Hegg when he said: "Without that civic engagement, you don't get progress on things like civil rights. You don't maintain the things we've achieved. They're allowed to fall into disrepair or they can actually be reversed -- unless there's a strong sense of civic engagement."
King, the depth psychologist he was, achieved so much through the symbolism of his life as a result of his service to others. "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance," he once said, "and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."
As we honor this activist and humanitarian, we should keep in mind that as older adults and youth labor and uplift humanity together, they are finding that collaboration leads to something broader, deeper and more far-reaching than one generation alone could create.
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