In America, the first holiday after the New Year since 1986 falls on the third Monday of January. We celebrate the life of an African American - a black man who transformed the modern history of America.
Born Jan 15, 1929. Assassinated April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King Jr.
We call him MLK.
Had MLK been alive, he would be 88 this year. Had he been alive, he would have witnessed an America where people of all colors and races enjoy equality in employment, election, healthcare, education, commuting, housing…… unlike his time. He would have witnessed Obama being elected as the first black president. And he would have seen him re-elected, loved by his people. He would have seen Americans finally getting universal healthcare, legalized gay marriage….
But he didn’t live to see any of these.
And we, living and breathing the fresh air of freedom and equality, easily forget that slavery, segregation, and discrimination of all kinds were not distant history.
Since the first slaves came to America in 1619, black people endured subservient lives without freedom, and continued to suffer utter inequality through segregation (Jim Crow laws) and poor treatment even after emancipation was proclaimed (in 1863). While America embraces freedom of religion, its legal system embedded with a religious foundation, and the 1776 Declaration of Independence stating clearly that “all men are created equal”, it deviated from the very core of its belief and its very own creed, allowing its own people to be subject to almost 350 years of utmost suffering.
As a priest, MLK followed the footsteps of Jesus Christ. He preached love. Love, as construed in “agape” – the core of his teaching – exuded among us in selfless acts toward each other the way we love ourselves, can transcend the confines and differences in religion, language, ethnic background, culture, sexual orientation, education, wealth, social status…., and cultivate a natural urge for equality and righteousness, upon which to build a fair and healthy community. When we love, we can no longer tolerate suppression from the powerful, and abuse of the underprivileged by the special interest groups.
It is this core concept of love that he drew 250,000 people of all colors and races to the march on Washington in 1963, where he delivered his famous speech “I have a dream” – an epic moment of the Civil Rights Movement.
MLK fervently called for collective, unyielding efforts, not to be satisfied “until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
He ardently promoted non-violent civil disobedience to advance his cause. He tirelessly toured among states, organized civil rights activities, wrote even in jail, preached, called for communication and change……..He exemplified a noble form of moral obstruction against unjust laws. He urged a change in the minds and hearts as “you can’t legislate morals.”
MLK said in his letter from a Birmingham jail: “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We are now in a world of painful scars and divisions, far beyond issues in colors and race. In the midst of brokenness, it’s up to us how we heal and repair, salvaging ourselves from regression. And it matters not where we live, as we share the vast expanse above us.
So it’s fair to say MLK led us to achieve a pivotal stride in the Civil Rights Movement. But we are by no means close to full and final equality and fairness in the path of history. It’s still a long road. Let’s be mindful, while we celebrate MLK today, that not only do we celebrate his memorable achievements in his short life, but also that we see clearly -- that the evil force that killed him still lives today. And it lives vibrantly.