Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Dr. King's legacy gives us hope
It's been a week with great sorrow and great joy. Haiti. Who can fathom the anguish of these people? We see the man pacing in front of the concrete slabs covering his loved ones. He hears their voices. He hopes someone comes. So do we. An 18 month old baby is pulled from the rubble. In hours she is giving a wet kiss on the cheek to her uncle. A man and his wife dig their way out of their home. The dead are given an unremarkable grave which is no testament to their lives. Heaped humanity without an identity -no photos, no distinction. The United Nations mourns the loss of educators and diplomats. Who will build this post-apocalyptic world?
In the street of Port Au Prince, people are singing. They walk in a circle belting out hymns. Their voices are a mixture of moaning and exultation. We are here. We sing. We will sing of the ones we lost and we will rebuild the future. A woman is surrounded by small boys around her son's age. Her own child was hit by a stone wall and is dead, yet still she has arms wide enough for these skinny boys - motherless, lost - they cling to her warmth. She has a heart for them and will lead them into the direction of water, food, love.
Today, in Bergen County, New Jersey, my students and teaching colleagues spread their wings like doves. All around the region, they gave and received gifts. Some gathered food for the hungry, diapers, grape jelly. Others played bingo with the aged or built a block tower taller than anyone in the room. A Spanish student spoke on Telemundo in support of the humanity of the day laborers she was helping.
They were all involved in the Martin Luther King Day of Service - "A day on, not a day off!” I watched these stories build a giant ray of hope which spread across the skies of Bergen County, New Jersey. With each child they hugged, they changed the world. With every patient conversation, they became more like Dr. King. Action feels right. We are supposed to help each other.
Dr. King's legacy is what we need to remember at times like these. It's not just about race or the content of our character. It's about building a just world where everyone has shelter, food and the magnificent opportunity to learn.
On the radio, I heard a report today that told the story of the first time that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. heard "We shall overcome" sung by Pete Seeger, the folk singer. "Catchy tune," he said, "I can't get it out of my mind."
Tonight, I went to the Bergen County MLK birthday celebration. I love the part where we all hold hands to sing, swaying like an enormous wave. "We shall overcome. We shall overcome. Deep in my heart - I do believe, we shall overcome someday."
We hear you, Martin. We’re working on it.