I couldn’t help but think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the news broke last night and into the morning about the earthquake in Haiti. The odds are stacked up against this country, yet with prayer and help from others it will survive. The pictures suggest ruin, yet the determination of the people will bring it back to life.
I equate in some ways the tragedy in Haiti with King’s struggles. What King saw was not so much a physical devastation, but a social and psychological decay. He saw a country that was in ruin, just in a different way. To paraphrase King, America had a check that all of its citizens could not cash. The social ills confronted by civil rights pioneers like King were stripping away at America’s foundation. We were haunted by inequality and injustice. The phrase, “created equal” didn’t apply at that time. People of good will, black and white, decided to save America. The darkness of the civil rights period pointed out our weaknesses, yet we survived because of the gallantry of good men and women. Just think for a moment what we would be now without the courage of our forefathers and foremothers who refused to give in to racism and sexism. They knew that nonviolence would beat violence any day of the week.
So here we are in 2010, battling a new set of challenges. But have the old challenges of intolerance and subtle cruelty gone away? As individuals, we will all come up with different answers depending upon our circumstances. Some would say America is a much better place than it was during King’s day. However, it is because of yesterday’s sacrifices that we have the strides today. We cannot take the King holiday for granted. Too many lives were lost for us to take this day off. It must be a day of celebration, action and rededication. We must celebrate because our country had a social earthquake and we survived. We survived because people of all walks and stations in life made a commitment to take us from shame to fame. The King holiday must also be a call to action. We must help one another and be our brother’s and sister’s keeper. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and giving hope to the hopeless must be our mantra every day. Our actions will make the difference. Our rededication means we will not fall asleep at the social switch in America. We must not take our foot off of the gas pedal of inclusion and fairness. Dedicating ourselves to assisting each other as we chart our course of success will help everyone to become stronger.
We must have a clarion calling to awaken some of us from our slumber of indifference and apathy. In some regions, there are King committees that maintain creative energy that fosters hope and opportunity. As we go forward in the new millennium we must also forge new leadership. It is time for young scholars to replace the old paradigms. We cannot afford to be shackled by the past. Let us resolve to make America stronger. We can do it because men like King had the odds stacked against him and he became a difference-maker. We can all be difference-makers by mentoring a young person or by helping the elderly. We can volunteer our talents and encourage others. Our lives are all woven together in the same fabric of decency and respect for others. Let us remember that I need you and you need me!
Dr. James B. Ewers Jr. is vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at
Edward Waters College.