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Soul Searching

Tom Saretsky

01/31/2018

Living up to the dream of Rev. Martin Luther King

A couple of weeks ago the United States commemorated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. It is celebrated on the third Monday of January, usually the closest day to Dr. King’s actual birthday, Jan. 15. Martin Luther King Jr. was America’s prophet of non-violence and the chief spokesperson for the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1960s. It was his aim to end racial segregation through non-violent activism.

Out of all the African American civil rights leaders during the 1960s, Dr. King was the most influential. He helped establish the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination in public accommodations, facilities and employment. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964, and sadly was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

It was tragic that one so passionately against violence had to die so violently. His assassination initiated a flurry of racial riots, known as the Holy Week Uprisings, throughout the nation. It was the greatest wave of civil unrest to hit the nation since the Civil War. “Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love.”

I could only imagine that Dr. King would be turning in his grave to see what has become of the United States today. How would you even begin to explain to him that his country is being run by the most polarizing, openly racist, egotistical, mercurial, and bombastic president in the history of the United States? How does one explain that Donald Trump, a man of profound narcissism and ignominy, was given a mandate to rule the most powerful nation on Earth?

How would one get Dr. King to understand that this president has become a contributor to civil unrest in the U.S. and to world peace in general? Dr. King literally gave his life for the causes of racial equality and freedom. Their president’s latest vile, hate-filled exhortation expressed that the U.S. should not be accepting people from “shithole” countries such as Haiti and certain African nations. “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Members of Trump’s own party and other leaders in the world have decried his ignorant and dangerous diatribe. It is disappointing that our own prime minister did not call him out and take a stand. Mr. Trudeau simply said he “would not opine on what the president may or may not have said.” It is reprehensible of our leader not to respond to this misogynistic bully for the divisiveness he sows regularly. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Though I am not an American, I feel it necessary to issue an apology to Dr. King for what has taken place in his own home country, even though our country is not the Promised Land either. Dr. King, I am sorry for the state to which your country has descended, despite your passion for justice, equality, fairness and freedom. I am sorry that “Trumpocracy” is replacing democracy, and that dialogue has been replaced with self-aggrandizing “tweets,” autocratic orders and terminations. “Violence leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.”


*****

A second look at what I have just expressed tells me I may need to re-think the tone of my own caustic language. “Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.” It seems I, too, am sowing the seeds of violence. “. . . non-violence cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.” Through my words it appears I haven’t done justice to Dr. King either, nor have I contributed to the heart to which you hoped for humankind. My heavy-handed attack seeks to divide rather than unite, and I will need to take your words more to heart.

Maybe we all do in our own ways. “Violence in word and action is immoral because it seeks to humiliate rather than to seek understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.”

Rest in peace, Dr. King, while we continue to struggle to live up to your dream for a peaceful tomorrow; your dream for equality among all; your dream for mercy and justice. Through your unwavering faith, may we “be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. Through your faith, may we be able to transform the jangling discords of our nations into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. Through your faith, may we be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together . . . to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.