Our new year started out, for many people, with a renewal of hope. I am one of those people. However, I realize that 2020 has left us some problems to solve in this new year. We face eradicating the COVID-19 Pandemic, getting Americans back to work and businesses to reopen, and resolving issues about justice and equality. But with hope we can keep ourselves on the path to solve our problems. We are off to a shaky start, but as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Dr. King spoke those words in February of 1968, just a few months before he was assassinated. I was just a little boy when he spoke those words and truthfully, I did not read them until I was in high school. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I had heard those words in 1968. That is the paradox and the benefit of a timeless leader – each generation can read his or her words as if they had just been written.
The changes in America from 1863 to 2020 came through a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice – and pain. Think of how each generation has had a person to take the mantle of leadership, regardless of the danger to him or her. When you think of the events of 2020 and since the beginning of 2021, you realize that Dr. King is speaking to this generation just he did the generation of the 1950’s. Dr. King speaks to multiple generations and his words will affect future generations as well.
Dr. King had just recently earned his Doctorate of Systemic Theology when the Montgomery Boycott was already in action and Rosa Parks had already been arrested. Although he had been active in the cause of Civil Rights in America, this event was the beginning of practicing what he learned about Mahatma Gandhi and nonviolent resistance. He assumed leadership of that boycott and grew to be seen as the leader of an entire movement. The Montgomery Boycott lasted for little over a year and was the most prominent boycott that brought about the 1956 United States Supreme Court ruling that state laws on segregation on buses is unconstitutional. Having achieved that milestone, Dr. King did not rest, he knew there was still so much more to be done in hundreds of cities. Dr. King knew that there had to be a national mandate for civil rights, however the change had to come neighborhood by neighborhood, town by town, city by city, state by state. In his book Where Do We Go from Here, Dr. King wrote:
First, the line of progress is never straight. For a period, a movement may follow a straight line and then it encounters obstacles and the path bends. It is like curving around a mountain when you are approaching a city. Often it feels as though you were moving backward, and you lose sight of your goal; but in fact you are moving ahead, and soon you will see the city again, closer by.
We have many great leaders to stand with us today and we still have the timeless leadership of Dr. King through his books, sermons, and speeches. Now, as back in the fifties, we have also seen people of all types coming together in the cause of justice and equality for all. We have Dr. Kings speeches and writings to encourage us as we continue to stand for the rights guaranteed to all of us.
On this day, set aside to honor Dr. King, find some time to start reading one of his books, listen to one of his speeches or one of his sermons. As you do, you may realize that the positive and inspiring words and the qualities of courage, equality, justice, love, and hope, as Dr. King knew, must be retaught to each generation in the framework of truth – to bring about peace.
by Victor Johnson, Career Facilitator