MLK Day 2018

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" - Dr. Martin Luther King
Today is Martin Luther King Day.  For many, it is just another day. That holds true for me most of my life. I grew up in a middle class white family that had most of the things we needed to be comfortable. I lived in the deep south, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi in my younger days. I saw prejudice and racism up close, but not aimed at me.  I was raised in a family where those thoughts were not part of who we were. I didn’t make much of racism because I didn’t live it; either as the oppressor or the oppressed.
I went to school at the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss. A school that has one of the worst legacies in racism. From James Meredith in the 60’s being escorted onto campus by the National Guard to the more recent events Colonel Reb mascot being removed and the song “From Dixie with Love” being banned; the school does not seem to be the best reference for today.  However, it was while I was a student in 1982 that the confederate flag was the controversy. A new black cheerleader refused to wave the confederate battle flag at football games (which at that time was an active part of the school spirit). I recall those days with mixed emotions, I was more or less neutral, but both sides were calling for extreme measures with rallies and protests. There is one image that still sticks in my mind. It was a photo in the yearbook taken in the town square in Oxford, during a march by the KKK.  The image was of a black mother watching the march, her young daughter in her embrace in front of her as the Klan passed.  There was a tear rolling down her cheek. I felt her pain, not just for herself, but her child.
That image still moves me. I have tried to live a life free of racism and judgement of others because they are different.  I have studied Dr. King, his efforts, his sermons and looked for lessons. I have talked about inequality with friends and coworkers. One thing for certain, discrimination is not limited to the color of skin or social standing.  It exists in too many forms in our world to count. I found over the years that I was not “without sin”, so to speak, in how I treated others. I did judge others, in many cases, placing them beneath me or my effort. It was this mindset that Dr. King preached against, not just black and white.
I have sought to live and be an example of what I think we should be: caring, compassionate, kind, accepting, giving and selfless. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a solid lesson regardless of your religious commitment. It is in the New Testament of the Bible, Luke 10: 25-37, but the message rings as truth to me. I won’t recite it, but essentially a man was robbed and beaten, left on the side of the road. Those who were expected to be the best passed him by and one who was from a shunned group, stopped to help. The story itself teaches, but when placed in context of the culture of the day, it means even more.
By stopping to help an injured man, one was taking responsibility for this person, not just then, but for the rest of his life. To reach out in such as way brought responsibility beyond applying a dressing to a wound and transporting him to a doctor. When the Samaritan man acted in the parable, he did more than offer a helping hand. He acted in a truly selfless manner, well beyond simple inconvenience.
Dr. King once gave a sermon on this story. He is quoted "The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But... the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'" This perspective on life is one that has influenced me, especially, but especially in the past year.
I choose no longer to sit and watch the woman cry as the winds of discrimination blow. Instead I treat everyone I encounter as a person of worth. Regardless of the color of their skin, gender, religion, or sexual orientation they are worthy of my kindness. These are easy, but beyond that I include their past mistakes, poor choices, criminal history, even their bigotry and racist past. I will be an example and reach out a kind hand to those in need. I will give of myself, thinking not how this will affect me, but how it may affect them.

May you find a positive message in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King this day and put it into action.


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