As a (somewhat) middle-class white male, I don't have much right to speak about Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the day our nation has set aside to honor his legacy. Other people's lives have been impacted far more than mine by his life. Still, without his work and the efforts of countless others, my life would be different. I wouldn't be living in the neighborhood I do surrounded by Hmong, Latino, Sudanese, and African American families. I would be able to work in the school I work at nor have some of the friends I do. Neither would my children. I wouldn't have some of the family members that I have.
His is a wonderful legacy. Of course, it's not finished yet. His quote from the March on Washington is as true today as it was then: "Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children." Injustice still exists. Poverty still exists. Racism hasn't been eradicated.
That's why today is important. It's a reminder that there's still work to be done. I don't believe that the "unalienable rights" of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been granted to all people in this nation.
And if we're going to get to the point of fulfilling King's dream that his children will be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, then we've got a lot of work to do. Not just on the racism end of things, but on the character end as well. That's an area we all need to work on--a look at the evening news makes that evident. A walk through a school yard makes that evident. Waiting in a checkout lane makes that evident.
Character won't develop on its own. It takes community.
We were talking with friends who were over for our house recently about how times are different for our children than they were for us. We had the freedom of wandering through the city on our own at their age (well, I didn't since I lived on a farm, but I still knew freedoms that my children don't). That freedom existed in part because of community. Our neighbors knew us. Even if they didn't know us, they would correct us if we were doing something wrong. There was accountability.
We still need that. Single moms need other adults to show their children character. Two-parent homes need their neighbors to teach their children how to behave when they're out in the community. How to treat elders with respect. How to be honest. How to care for each other. How to fight for the oppressed. How to have fun. How to love. How to stand up against what is wrong and for what is right.
Martin Luther King knew this. "Beloved Community" was core to his work. That's why marches and boycotts were so important. They required community. And through community could come change.