Submitted by: Rev. Dr. Allison N. Lee
Social Justice Editor, The Star of Zion
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. He[she/they] who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he[she/they] who helps to perpetrate it. He[she/they] who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The aforementioned words, penned by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are a compelling reminder to both self and the collective of a responsibility…our responsibility…to use our voices to speak up and out against acts of oppression and inequity in any form. It is a prompting to first direct our thoughts toward injustice that is occurring, and then command a corrective action to follow. This reference is a straight pin of critical reflection regarding duty that has been ignored in the fabric of a country that focuses on self and historically turns a blind eye to the troubles of others. It is a nail of acknowledgement that lack of action against an issue is eerily close to being an active contributor in the wall of a society with a bystander mentality. These words speak the reality that although we may be from a variety of places, of different ethnicities, have separate faith beliefs, and hold unique stories, ultimately, we are bound by a common experience.
These words are chilling, because the nature of self-reflection as we gaze into the mirror begs that honesty take place regarding whether we have been part of the problem or are actively seeking and working toward a solution. The words of Dr. King require more from us than to simply: attend trainings on equity in a perfunctory manner, know that there is a lens of oppressor v. oppressed through which we can look, or share a post on social media at the height of societal upheaval. These words require us to do all of those things and to also “get our hands dirty,” through the transformative work that creates and sustains social justice oriented organizations and movements, uplifts engagement of policy pertaining to economic, racial, gender, and political matters, advocates openly and freely for the work of justice to be done, and does the heart-work required to be candid with self, regarding the role the we each play in either standing up to injustices or remaining silent.
2023 marks 40 years (1983) since the United States of America saw legislation passed that made an observance of the late Martin Luther King Jr. a federal holiday to take place on the 3rd Monday of each January, which will either fall on or close to his birthday each year, which is on January 15th. In 1986 – for the first time – the country celebrated the nationwide holiday that we have come to know and celebrate as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, also known as MLK Day. It took additional time for each individual state to recognize and enact this special day. This holiday is regarded as one that celebrates Dr. King’s legacy, focuses on civil rights, and calls the public to action and change. Many regard the holiday as a day on rather than a day off, which manifests in the way of parades, breakfasts, marches, community service efforts, and the like, all in the name of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As we pause to remember the efforts and accomplishments of Dr. King, may we strive to be present in action and outspoken in justice as we fight for others and for ourselves. May we be bold in our pursuit of tearing down the structures of injustice built long ago and maintained by a system that benefits from oppression. May we be daring in our embracing of one another and desire intentional change as we march on.