Today we celebrate the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and with the inauguration of the first black US President tomorrow, I’ve been thinking a lot of how far we have come…and how far we still have to go.
I love the words of Dr. King and his passion for what he knew to be true. One of my favorite quotes from his is “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
I just recently came across an article from a few years ago by Patricia Digh, right after the death of Rosa Parks. She was talking about an email she had received, saying that what we needed was another Rosa Parks or another Martin Luther King, Jr.
Her response to the email was that what we actually need are “more white people who are willing to be civil rights heroes. We need white people to be as outraged about racism as people of color are. We need white people to realize that racism is not a black issue–it’s a white issue. We need white people to refuse to participate in a system that privileges them over fellow human beings. We need white people to actively, visibly, and publicly examine their own role in perpetuating racism in subtle and unconscious ways, acknowledge their own part in the problem, verbalize the unearned privileges that accrue to them simply because of their skin color, and demand those same privileges for people of color.
“Fighting racism isn’t only the job of people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. The next generation of civil rights activists in this nation must be white people who realize that winning this fight will be the result of individual, daily actions on their part, not grand pronouncements and history month celebrations.
“As long as we wait for national heroes to emerge, nothing will change…..Unless we wake up every morning determined to eliminate racism even when that work is difficult, nothing will change.
“The police officer who fingerprinted Rosa Parks after that fateful bus ride…..(was) asked to comment on Parks’ death….(he) simply said that he had no problem with black people and that he was just doing his job. As long as we ‘just do our jobs,’ racism will prevail.”
Dr. King’s, “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered on Aug. 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Here is a portion of that speech, which I feel is appropriate still today:
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.'”
My kids had school today, as a snow make-up day, which really gets me going. Either have school on the holiday, or don’t. But, trying to be an optimist, I hoped that the school and teachers could use at least a small portion of their day to discuss Dr. King or Rosa Parks or anything at all about the Civil Rights Movement. But when they got home from school and I asked, they both said no. UGH!!! I was happy that I had the foresight to read to them my favorite book this morning, one I highly recommend to anyone with children. It’s called “Freedom on the Menu” and it’s the true story of the Greensboro Sit-ins, told from a little girl’s perspective. We had the opportunity to visit the Woolworth’s in Greensboro when we were in North Carolina a few years ago, after we had first read the book. Check it out.
So… let us remember, like Patricia Digh said, “Rosa Parks is dead. The next generation of civil rights heroes must be white people.”
Let’s no longer be silent about the things that really matter.