Yesterday at work I had the privilege of attending a special program honoring the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the day his birthday was observed across the country. Our keynote speaker was the Honorable Jesse White, the Illinois Secretary of State. Secretary White was an extremely personable man with countless personal stories of both triumph and discrimination. He also made an interesting point that has inspired me to write for the first time in a long while.
“Segregation was about sitting down:” whites sit in this part of the bus, blacks here. Whites sit at this bar, blacks at this one. This bathroom allows whites only, this one has a sign that says ‘colored.’”
By extension, equality and justice are about standing up.
In the program for the event there was an excerpt of one of Dr. King’s speeches, given at Southern Methodist University on March 17, 1966.
"I would say we have come a long, long way in our struggle to make justice a reality for all men but we have a long, long way to go before the problem is solved... Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless effort and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God; and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation and irrational emotionalism. We must have time and we must realize that the time is always right to do right."
Today, 44 years later, in this country we've got the Prop 8 trial. We've got healthcare reform. We've got job issues, tax issues, food issues, education issues, housing issues, many of which reek of injustice and disparity.
Now Haiti has been ravaged by an earthquake the magnitude of which has not been seen in two centuries. There is plenty to be emotional about. Though we can send our dollars and our prayers, we could not stop the horrific destruction of, basically, an entire country and innocent lives and families by natural disaster.
But there are issues where we are not so helpless, and there is no time for us to rest. There is no time for us to be irrationally emotional. There is no time for us to allow the status quo to remain. The time is now, the time is always, to be rationally emotional, to stand up. Separate is never equal. Justice is not partial to one race or class or gender or country or religion or sexual orientation or hair color or age.
Alexandre Dumas wrote, "all human wisdom is summed up in two words; wait and hope."
I disagree. It is wise to be just. It is wise to be fair. It is wise to stand up for what you believe in when you see a wrong in the world.
Dumas may not have gotten everything right. But his Three Musketeers did: It's time for us to all stand up and proclaim that we will wait no longer, that the time is now to declare, "all [standard rights] for one, and one [standard rule] for all."
Write to your legislators in favor of those bills you believe will make this country fair and just and prosperous for all. Give of your self either time or money (or hell, both) to those causes and organizations whose work you believe advance Dr. King’s noble mission. In the words of the Chicago Transit Authority, if you see something, say something.
As Dr. King said in his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech on April 3, 1968 – the day before that fateful day when his life was tragically taken –
“We don't have to argue with anybody. We don't have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don't need any bricks and bottles, we don't need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around… to these massive industries in our country, and say, "God sent us by here, to say to you that you're not treating his children right. And we've come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God's children are concerned.”
My fellow Oy!sters, now I ask you to join me in making fairness and equality toward all the first item on your agenda.