As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. today, we remember his prophetic and visionary life. We celebrate his courage and leadership. We retell the stories of the civil rights movement. As we continue to mourn the death of Dr. King, we acknowledge his martyrdom because two weeks after his death, Congress passed monumental civil rights legislation, putting an end to legal racial discrimination.
Forty-four years later, we haven’t overcome. In the wake of the public killing of George Floyd, replayed over and over on national TV in the midst of the early pandemic stay-at-home days, much discussion and some change have happened. Many calls for an end to racial injustice and police brutality with safeguards for citizens, but many others are trying to stop the discussion of racism, calling for eliminating “critical race theory” in the schools, which might make white students feel bad about themselves. Teaching the truth about our history is so important that we can all work to make America better. We must confront the evil in our past to eliminate it in our future. Yes, it’s unpleasant, but we shouldn’t pretend it didn’t happen so that we can feel good. We must cultivate empathy and love toward each other. We must agree that the injustices must stop.
Today, I believe we need new prophets and leaders to call us to love each other again, speak truth to power, and build a country where everyone truly has an opportunity. I hear these prophets in the authors’ words I’ve read in the past few years.
I recently read the Sum of Us: Why Racism Hurts Us All and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGee. This brilliantly written discussion of what is wrong with the USA points to directions for improvement. McGee’s impressive research and analysis underscore the role of racism in the history of our country. She lifts the many ways that racism damages not just people of color but most of us. I was so impressed with her ability to consolidate so much information into a very readable and prophetic treatise. And the book illuminates our path forward, calling us to build diverse coalitions to start advocating for an America that works for everyone. I hear prophetic voices in the words of Isabella Wilkerson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi, Michelle Alexander, and Robin DiAngelo as I’ve read their books in recent years.
I wrote my most recent novel, Revelation in the Roots: Emerald Isle, as I grapple with the racial injustice in my country and our divided political landscape. One of my characters, Welby, hears a call to be a Martin Luther King, Jr. for today. I hope that you and I can hear that call as well, to continue the work of Dr. King, who continues to inspire me by his life and these words:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.