Dr. Martin Luther King was only 39 when he was murdered in 1968. I remember that day clearly. I was a Junior at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, New Jersey and I was amongst about ten students who were summoned to the vice principal's office to discuss how to 'not have an eruption of violence' in our school. Like the school, we were a mixed group, black and white, all on the cusp of young adulthood, but still very much in our teens. Englewood was an unusual place to grow up in the fifties and sixties. It was integrated (if imperfectly) and several of my friends came from interracial homes. We spoke that day from our hearts about race and hatred and love and non-violence. I don't recall that we did anything concrete to hold off an eruption that might not have been coming in our particular school and town -- sadly unlike other places in the country. But, I do remember being deeply moved by the vulnerability and strength which filled that room. I felt honored to be part of the conversation -- and I do remember making a sign which hung in the hall of the school that year -- NON-VIOLENCE DOESN'T MEAN NON-ACTION: STUDENTS UNITE!
Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. When I was born, it would've been inconceivable to imagine that we would be celebrating the birthday of a non-violent black civil rights leader as a national holiday. Or that we would have a biracial president. Yet we still live in a country riddled with prejudice and hatred of the 'other.'
Watching the film Selma, I was struck by the way President Lyndon Johnson had to finally put aside the politics of civil rights and stand on the moral ground of equality. Looking at the larger picture of his legacy and how he would be seen made him not egotistical, but allowed a clear vision of where history would be taking us. He wanted to be on the right side in the History books.
A marriage equality activist lawyer parsed the upcoming Supreme Court review of gay marriage cases as another possible scenario where being on the 'right side of history' might be playing towards progress: Does Chief Justice Roberts want the 'Robert's Court' to go down in the books as the court that moved human rights forward, or as one which tried to hold back the inevitable forces of positive humanistic change that this country is founded on.
I'm an optimist. The world is a mess. Murder, war and suffering are all over the planet. Inequality sits on the street outside my American door, and I believe that despite the backlash of the intolerant and the fanatic, we will continue to move ahead. Dr. King, if he had been given long life, would have surely stood for the continued non-acceptance of inequality for any American, of color, gay, whatever. Let us use this occasion to reflect on our personal role in creating a peaceful country and planet.
We must be willing to stand by our brothers and sisters of all colors and creeds in the continued struggle against oppression and suppression of our human rights.