Holidays come and holidays go. The calendar is littered with them. For most of us they’re a day off from work. Rarely do we remember why we have Labor Day. We just go to the beach and stop wearing white. We don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day for anything other than a reason to wear green, and those who drink, consume as much green beer as possible. But, today should be different. Today, we celebrate the life, work, and legacy of one of the giants of history – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Not only is he a civil rights icon, but he is also, in my view, a modern day prophet who, due to hatred and fear, left us far too soon.
Dr. King would have been 88 today. If he hadn’t been assassinated, there’s a good chance he would still be with us. I’d like to make the assertion that he was more than just the most notable civil rights leader in history. He was a modern day prophet. What exactly is a prophet? Whenever the word is spoken, images come to mind of someone who predicts the future. Images of a conjurer come to mind-someone living on the fringes of society speaking specifically of events to come in the future. But that’s not at all what a prophet is.
In his book, Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World, Bishop John Shelby Spong provides his readers with an alternate definition of what a prophet is. He concludes that a prophet is someone who is so in touch with the society of which he or she is a part that he or she is able to see the true problems of the society and offer insight into the direction that the society must go in order to survive. The prophet doesn’t predict. Rather, the prophet intuitively knows the magnitude of the problems the society faces and offers both predictions on what will become of the society if it doesn’t change and the direction the society needs to go in order to move into the fullness of what God has in store. Dr. King fit this definition perfectly. He saw first hand the oppression and degradation of African Americans in every day life. He also knew what we must do to fix the problem. We must have dialogue. We must strive for understanding of each other. We must realize that there is far more that unites us than divides us. Most importantly, he knew that we are all God’s children and that only love could unite us.
It is vitally important to understand that Dr. King lived only a generation ago. No problems can be fully mended in such a short time. While it is true that much progress has been made due largely to his tireless and selfless work, there is much left to do. Some argue that racism is over since America has elected its first African American president. This is nothing more than ignorance. The fact that America could elect Barack Obama as its president twice is truly amazing. I love the man. I find his intelligence, integrity, and leadership to be second to none. But, how did we go from electing him to electing Donald Trump? I don’t know the answer. It’s absolutely confounding.
The one thing I do know about Trump’s election is that race had a lot to do with it. No, I’m not saying that everyone who voted for Trump did so because they are racist. That can’t be true. At least, I hope and pray that it’s not. What I do know is that Trump’s vision for America is the antithesis of King’s. Trump started his campaign on a note of negativity, divisiveness, and racism and that theme has permeated the campaign and transition. It’s only logical to believe that it will be a theme in his term as president. Who would have thought that in 2017 we would have someone named Jefferson Beauregard, a tireless crusader against civil rights selected as the nation’s top law enforcement official. It’s baffling. Why would a president-elect chose to denigrate John Lewis, a man who marched arm in arm with Dr. King, on the eve of King’s holiday? Again, I don’t have the answer. However, I do believe that it’s not an accident.
I don’t want to take up much more time in this essay to talk about Trump. This needs to be about hope and remembering the work of Dr. King and not the ignorance and repugnance of Trump. However, I would like to take a moment to speak a little more in detail about Rep. John Lewis. I’ve heard it said that it’s not officially Pride in Atlanta until John Lewis jogs through the parade lineup, shaking hands with the crowds lining the streets of the parade route through midtown Atlanta. I had the good fortune of shaking his hand once during this event. I was star struck. He is truly an icon not only of the African American civil rights movement. But he is also a tireless advocate for LGBT rights and the rights of other marginalized groups as well. He truly realizes that until there is justice and equality for all, then King’s dream can’t fully come to fruition.
The history of Dr. King is commemorated in Atlanta. As a life-long Georgian, I’ve been to Atlanta hundreds of times. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only visited his historical sites once. One visit isn’t enough. Visiting the historic Ebenezer Baptist church is simply breathtaking. Visitors are given the opportunity meander about the church. Perhaps the most moving part is being able to sit in the pews of the church and listen to sermons given by Dr. King. It’s truly a way to experience history and to enjoy a brush with greatness. It’s also an opportunity to remember that hope isn’t dead. Hope is inside of all of us if we take the time to find it.
What good is hope if we don’t put action behind it? It’s not any good at all. Today, I urge you to do something to help realize Dr. King’s dream. No matter how big or small, anything can help. Today in honor of King’s legacy, I’ve decided to make a donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center in honor of Rep. John Lewis. It wasn’t a large donation, but it makes me feel part of something bigger than myself. Today, I urge you to do something to honor Dr. King. Help someone in need. Foster dialogue. Be a good person. Be the person that society needs you to be. We need it now more than ever.