Today we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. While Dr. King has almost universal approbation, fifty years after his assassination in 1968, we have yet to live into to his dream. We may give lip service to it, but we have not yet come to the point where we recognize each other's full humanity. There is a Promised Land that Dr. King believed lay out in front of him (and us), but we haven't yet crossed the river.
In the message he delivered, on the night before his death, in Memphis, as he prepared to lead a march in support of sanitation workers in Memphis, he spoke of the land of promise. He told that gathering that he had seen this land, but he wouldn't get there with them. He seemed to know that his life would be cut short, perhaps not as soon as it occurred, but he knew the day was coming when he would die. At the same time, he had confidence that a day was coming when the nation would cross the river into a new reality.
Below you will find the final words of that message. He spoke with joy about that day. He shared that he had no fear going forward, because he lived in hope. had faith that it would occur. He had looked over into the Promised Land. He had hope that a new days coming.
And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. [King Jr, Martin Luther. The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr.: "I Have a Dream" and Other Great Writings (King Legacy) (Kindle Locations 2955-2957). Beacon Press.]
I too have hope, but I also know that we still have ways to go. When Dr. King spoke these words in 1968, I was only ten years old. I did not know about these realities. These were not part of my world. Oh, I've learned in adulthood that racism was present in my community, but I didn't realize it at the time. I think Dr. King hoped that fifty years later, after he spoke these words, that poverty would have disappeared. war would have ended, and racism would be a thing of the past. They're not. There were those who thought that the election of Barack Obama would change everything. Maybe that would be the moment in which we crossed the river into the Promised Land. If only. The reports of the President's disparaging words about Haitians and Africans, along with words he's spoken in the past about others, reminds us that we still have a long ways to go before we cross that river.There is still fear and hate in the hearts of too many people in our nation. In fact, the electoin of Donald Trump seems to have opened the flood gates of such sentiment.
I grieve today that a President of the United States, the successor to the first Black President (a man whose father came from Africa) could speak horrific words, words I refuse to use, to describe fellow human beings. On this day, when we remember Dr. King, I grieve for my country, a country I love. I want to cross the river into the Promised Land that Dr. King dreamed of. We can, if we have the will, make that happen. But we need to have the will to do it. The status quo is unacceptable. We can do better. I just would like to see this happen in my lifetime! With that, I will remember and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life continues to remind us that there is a better way.