Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. exemplifies one of the greatest gifts one can have: foresight. His vision for America was one fraught with sacrifice, enlightened by hope and captivated by the people. Dr. King throughout his life overcame the barriers before him: white oppression, racial indifference, the social and political neglect of blacks, a country intentionally failing to uphold the principle that “All men were created equal.” In the midst of such despair, Dr. King organized, rallied and combatted the systems of injustice. Memorialized in the fight for civil rights, the hearts of the people and the inspiration of the embattled, each January we remember his work. We remember his truth, what he stood for and even more importantly, what he was lain to rest in support of.
Martin Luther King is often seen as a non-violent leader of the struggle for Civil Rights of African -Americans. That is not his sole history. Dr. King embodied a commitment to grapple with the injustices that threaten the goodness of humanity. He was not solely non-violent, he was revolutionary and radical in simply refusing to respond to the pure hatred and brutality of the system, people and ignorance that opposed him. His death marks a clear moment in history: the guilt of white fragility. What was more dangerous, was not the man who shot him, but the silence of those in power who did nothing to help the movement or address injustice. This tragedy is present in the of the bullet that pierced his body and ended his work on this earth. In his own words, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Today, we find ourselves, regardless of race and political belief, at a turning point. The work of Martin Luther King has not stopped, it did not end in 1968, it did not end in 2008, it is the work of today, tomorrow and the future. Our political leadership has shown us that there is no respect for the immigrant, Hispanic, black, transgender communities. There is no protection of those who are poorer, need access to healthcare, employment assistance and food security. Any appreciation of women, Muslim communities and Afro-ethnic countries will not be offered. That is the state of our country. But that does not have to be the state of this school, of our community, of our interactions, of our lives. Your silence on these issues is your guilt in supporting them.
Oftentimes, we take for granted the third Monday of each year, celebrating time off, rather than the freedom that came at the loss of the lives of not only Dr. King, but those names we will never know. The names labeled as unsavory, militant and violent. Our self-described Founding Fathers-- wealthy, white men-- waged a war in fight for their freedom, and are forever immortalized as patriots. History classes remind us of their bravery, of their unique foresight, of their vision for a new America.
But today we say to history and society, our Founding Fathers and Mothers were not only those already with the privilege, power and influence to make change. Rather they are the founders of a greater movement, a movement to defy the status quo, to upset stability, the Founders of Freedom. Names our history classes forget, omit or stigmatize. Names like: Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Stokley Carmichael, Huey Newton, Angela Davis, John Africa, Cesar Chavez, Gloria Anzaldúa, Rodolfo Corky Gonzalez, Joan Baez, Iqbal Ahmed, Richard Aoki, Grace Lee Boggs, Yuri Kochiyama, Sachen Littlefeather, Leonard Peltier, Sundance, Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, Marsha P Johnson, Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk and the many more people willing to wage war for their freedom. Their lives are shared in the story of Dr. King. Resistance and dissent our the purest forms of patriotism.