“We need a Martin Luther King Jr.”
It was a sunny day in Damascus two years ago and a CNN reporter happened to be interviewing people in Syria about the ongoing civil war.  By that time, the war was already in its third year with no end in sight.
A  woman sat pensively in a café alternately looking out in the distance and back at the journalist:  “We need a Martin Luther King Jr.  That’s what Syria needs.”
She had a wistful look as she said it, as if she thought it was just a dream, a dream that she may never live to see.
I think about this lady often and I wonder whether she is still in Damascus. I wonder if she and her family had been able to flee to safety. I wonder where that “safety “ is when I know that thousands of refugees are stranded at borders in Europe.   I wonder about her and I wonder about those 250,000 plus people of Aleppo who endure daily bombing raids of their homes and hospitals; who have been cut off from food and humanitarian aid.
As I wonder about these things, I am moved again by her call for a Martin Luther King  Jr.. All these years of teaching Martin Luther King Jr.’s activism and his writings in the classroom and I continue to be amazed at his accomplishment and the accomplishment of all those who struggled non violently for civil rights in the 50’s, 60’s and beyond.  They faced fire hoses, jail terms, dogs, police batons and bombs with methods of non-violence.    They sought no retribution even when shortly after the beginning of the Montgomery Bus boycott,  King’s house was bombed with his wife and ten week old baby inside.   When taunted with vicious words and names, he appealed to the blacks of Montgomery not to respond likewise.
‘If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.’”
 They were to keep walking.  They were to keep taking rides with the few blacks who owned cars.  They were to keep making their case with a dignity that could not be shaken.
It’s easy to have a false memory about those days. It’s easy to think that King and company were always heralded as they are now.   The fact is that when Martin Luther King Jr.  won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the city fathers and Atlanta’s elite were hesitant to attend a congratulatory dinner in his honor.  The leadership at Coca Cola had to step in and convince them that it would be an embarrassment to Atlanta if they did not attend.
All this was necessary because King and the other activists were labeled radicals and outsiders.  They were called troublemakers just for demanding justice and equality.   Yet time has been largely kind to these latter day heroes. King now has a holiday and his name is on countless streets and buildings.  Now we acknowledge them as heroes but do we really consider the accomplishment of the civil rights
movement as great if not greater than so many other American accomplishments?
Do we see their efforts for democracy, equality and justice as one of our greatest exports?  As we enumerate  our great exports – the computer, the internet, Hollywood and countless brands and services, does the civil rights movement make the list?
I believe 500 years from now, Americans will be remembered as much for these efforts from a interracial band of peacemakers  as they will be remembered for computer technology or  modern medicine.
That’s what comes to mind when I think of the words of the woman of Damascus. Somewhere somehow in the midst of the constant bombing and the chaos, someone was reaching out for peace – a particularly American peace—that they need now.
But where is THAT kind of peacemaking?
Where is it to be found now when they most need it and when we need it too since recent events have proven that the civil rights   movement is not over.   Not by a longshot. When the number of  black men in college has finally exceeded those in jail ( and that is good news), we know the civil rights movement is not over.
Notwithstanding the very real progress that has been made since the  landmark legislation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime  and people of color have more encounters with the police and the criminal justice system than their counterparts.  Drug offenses which constitute the bulk of court cases and jail sentences nationwide are disproportionately meted out to people of color even though Federal studies consistently show that all races ( Black, Latino, White, Asian etc.) use drugs at roughly the same rate.  ( The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander )
A recent Saturday Night Live skit in which the black commentator and white commentator talk about Americans, drugs and stop and frisk programs captured this well.  Upshot of the skit: Blacks and whites use drugs equally but whites do “better” drugs.
Funny, sad and probably true and makes you wonder why our jails don’t reflect that picture.
Yes, we still need a King just as Syria needs a King.
But the thing is…while we are waiting for one man or one woman, we may have to stand up and do our little part.
Martin Luther King Jr., after all, was always about empowering others – those he led and those who were influenced by him.  His interpretation of the Christian gospel meant that it was others first then himself. It’s likely the reason when he received the Noble Peace Prize, he donated all his prize money to the movement.
It was a life of sacrifice. It makes you wonder how and if we could  make a little sacrifice for the struggles of today on the streets of Charlotte, Dallas, Tulsa, Chicago, New York City, Ferguson, Waller County, Texas, Baltimore, North Charleston SC, San Diego, Kingston…
And the streets of Damascus and Aleppo.
After the last piece, some readers asked : So what should we do?
Well, some of us are protesting non violently. All to the good. As for the rest of us, I got to thinking that we could start by doing what we do best.  If you draw, draw something inspired by these tragedies and share it. If you write, write something that may move someone to action. If you are a leader, consider and advocate for some of those bipartisan proposals for establishing an international safe zone in Syria  and lead with wisdom.   If you are preacher, preach the good news and preach about the injustices around you.  If you are a teacher, teach your students about what’s happening here and abroad and why it matters.
Or if you have the gift of hospitality, have a get together. I remember during the Haiti earthquake crisis of 2010, my friend, N. R., used her birthday as a fundraiser.  Her small band played beautiful music and guests were told: “Don’t bring me a gift, I have enough.  Come learn about the crisis and write a check for  $10 towards  this  local charity called Archangel Airborne. They are doing great work in Haiti transporting goods and services at a much needed time.”  It was a beautiful evening and a wonderful way to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
 It was a wonderful way to be like King .
So maybe the next time someone says, ‘We need another Martin Luther King Jr.,”  we may not have to look away or look very far.
Find Anne C. Bailey's non-fiction book : The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History on Amazon.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This