Recently, I drove by a place of worship and read “new year, new hope.” I thought there was something quite prophetic in that short message. As we know, America will celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 15th. On that day, we will pause to reflect on the greatness of the man and to re-commit ourselves to his principles of fairness and justice. Many of us have found his philosophy to be quite simple. He wanted all of us to treat one another with great dignity and respect. Turning talk into action, however, causes us the trouble.
“Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that,” King said. “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” On Jan. 15th, there will be wonderful speeches, personal testimonies and great singing. On this day, I would like to believe we will all be on the same page. We will talk passionately about our love for one another. There is something truly special about the activities on this day. Places of worship, auditoriums and other edifices will be filled with people singing, “We shall overcome some day.” I enjoy the spirit that comes with this great song. I believe with all of us working together that we can capture this spirit year round.
America is great because it is a melting pot of ideas. These ideas come well intentioned, not meant to threaten or intimidate anyone. King said, “Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and include everybody. Not a few men who cherish lofty and noble ideals hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different.”
King and many other people have taken unpopular positions in order to achieve justice and equality. It is my view that King and others in the early Civil Rights Movement wanted to be liked. After all, none of us want to be disliked. King put his life and the lives of his family at great peril. He eventually lost his because of his unending quest for justice and parity. There are many people in America who are disliked because they are change agents. America came to be because the colonists grew weary of the oppressive rule of the British. This is simply a fact and can’t be debated. Women and people of color have made great strides because of their activism and because of policy changes. Early forerunners of the women’s movement were disliked and looked upon with disdain. Yet they affected change and women everywhere are better off for it.
King sought inclusion, not exclusion. He thought that different voices with different opinions should be included around the table of leadership. America can’t be America when there is always homogenous thinking. There is something powerful about diverse thinking. To paraphrase King, when evil men and women shout ugly words of hatred, good men and women must commit themselves to the glories of love. Where evil men and women would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men and women must seek to bring into being a real order of justice. Unfortunately not all of us are interested in the doctrines of fairness and justice. There are still those among us who want to keep the status quo alive and well. Some will go to great lengths to keep past practices flourishing. The good news is that this is a dwindling minority.
As America has crossed over into the new millennium, I, along with many others, believe that there is a marvelous light of hope and encouragement ahead. This hope and encouragement will come from small groups of people who will join together for the greater good. There will be spawned a new set of ideas and approaches from a new set of leaders and achievers. This movement will grow because the jewel of righteous will shine in both light and dark places. We will become involved because of our compelling interest to make this a better place. King said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader community.”
We have a wonderful opportunity to make a path where all of us can walk. It is a path of mutual respect, dignity, forgiveness and understanding. We can celebrate our differences because we know that our strength is in each other.
Wherever we celebrate the King holiday, let us leave determined to make a difference in someone’s life. We can’t miss this opportunity, as I believe this is a defining moment. Dr King said, “Life’s most persistent question is, what are you doing for others?”
— Dr. James Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs for Miami University Middletown in Middletown, Ohio.
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