|Martin Luther King Jr.|
With it being Martin Luther King Jr. day I feel compelled to share a brief anecdote from my own life and also some inspirational thoughts.
When I was a student at Wayne State University in Detroit, the topic of Civil Rights came up sporadically throughout the year, not just on Martin Luther King Jr. day or during Black history month. Civil Rights was something that people in Detroit still hold close to their hearts, and are quite aware that while this country has come a long way, we are still in the midst of an arduous journey. For all its flaws, Detroit is an amazing community filled with interesting people, consistently interesting local politics, and unique views about the way the world works.
Given this setting, during a chat with one of my journalism professors one afternoon, he noted that even though Martin Luther King Jr. had done some pretty amazing things in his life, he was most certainly not done and we should mourn the loss of all the things MLK had left undone.
It seemed to me such an obvious viewpoint, and yet, something I had never considered. I grew up in a world where oppression and prejudice existed in the past. I was raised in a sheltered and ignorant world. I came to Detroit naive and ignorant. I left, uncertain of what the future holds, yet certain that our country still has a lot of work to do before justice will prevail for all of the oppressed people, and not just people of color, but all people who simply don’t fit into the rigid molds that our society has set in place.
Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to see justice. He wanted to see the oppressed lifted up and he believed that it was the duty of all people to see to it that this happened.
I came across this quote today while thinking of MLK and pondering on what to write about and it struck a chord with me, and my views about the world. He was truly a great thinker and philosopher.
” … All life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
I believe that Martin Luther King Jr. would have a lot to say about gay marriage, the AIDS epidemic, and most recently, the immigration debate.
(My opinion of what he would say) (an actual quote in another context) on immigration, “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”
If MLK were alive today, I have no doubt in my mind that he would have spoken loudly and raucously against the Great Wall of Mexico. He would have loudly proclaimed the injustice of all the new laws being put into place. He would have defended the rights of children born into this country of illegal parents. He would have blasted any politician who tried to defend any and all ignorant points of view on illegal immigration.
On gay rights, (marriage and military), “(When you are) living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness… There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair… Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” (Actually, this quote fits nicely in with the immigration debate too.)
On the AIDS epidemic, “Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
HIV and AIDS doesn’t make the news much these days, but it is still an epidemic. Not just in Africa, in this country. Since many of you reading live in Austin, let me put it to you in local terms. In 2008, over 5,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS were diagnosed in Austin/Round Rock.
In 2008. Over 5,000. New cases. In 2008.
This topic is near and dear to my heart due to two close friends of mine in Detroit, a couple I know who are AIDS activists and both living with a diagnosis of AIDS.
Felix and Paula Sirls, my friends, who drive all over Michigan and Ohio speaking to groups and running support groups for newly diagnosed people in Detroit, have been living with this ravaging disease for the better part of their adult lives. They are two of the most amazing, intelligent, and loving people I’ve ever met in my life. I wish I could bottle up their spirits and spread their beauty and love around the world.
It is with certainty I say that the only reason the pharmaceutical companies have not found a cure for this horrifying disease — that even if it doesn’t kill, it maims and disfigures, and shames people — is because they are making a shitload of money off of it.
And I also feel certain in saying that if this disease was killing off white heterosexuals, we’d have a cure for it by now. But because the main two groups it kills is homosexuals and black people, well, it’s just gonna keep on keeping on.
I have a feeling if MLK was alive today and had been alive in the past 30 years of this epidemic he’d have had quite a lot to say on the topic.
So today, yes, celebrate the beauty that was Martin Luther King Jr. But don’t forget to mourn the loss of his young life that had so much potential. And grieve for all of the changes that he might have helped to make if he had not been killed.
And if I may — without sounding preachy because I am just as guilty of inaction as the next person — please think about these topics and if any one of them speaks to you in any way, make a pledge to yourself to do at least one thing this year to uplift the oppressed this year. Or pick another one like homelessness or poverty.
I think, all the time, about getting involved in the fight against AIDS. But I never do anything about it. But this year, in the name of Martin Luther King Jr. I pledge to myself and to all of you, that I am going to find some way to help this cause.