“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke those words at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963, as America was tossed into a tempest of racial unrest. Nearly 60 years later, there’s still plenty of unrest.
On Monday, we’ll mark King’s life and legacy with a national holiday. It’s now been 39 years since the birthday of this iconic figure in the civil rights movement was rightly designated as such by Congress.
Sometimes in the years since King’s death, people ask a question that’s intriguing, but impossible to answer. “If Martin Luther King were alive today, what would he think of …?”
Certainly, if King had not been cut down by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis almost 54 years ago, and if he had lived to see his 93rd birthday, he would have borne witness to all that the rest of America has seen.
Most recently, he would have seen an America that is ostensibly desegregated, but in fact has many gaps that persist between its Black citizens and its white citizens.
He would have seen a political divide that has widened considerably in the last several years. He would have seen a nasty discord among many Americans that splits us into red and blue just as much as into Black and white. He would have seen a worldwide pandemic rage into what will be its third year, affecting people of color disproportionately.
Again, King: “The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
He would have seen these things and more.
What exactly he would have thought of all of them, and by word and deed influenced our perception of them, is pure speculation. But it is food for thought.
So what can we do to appropriately mark the holiday?
Here in Kent County, our options are limited in 2022 due to the ongoing pandemic.
First thing Monday morning, the 20th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Observance and Breakfast will be held virtually — pivoting from its traditional event at the Rock Hall firehouse. Everyone is invited and there is no cost. The Zoom link will be posted on the Chester Valley Ministers Association Facebook page on Sunday, Jan. 16.
One of the highlights will be the awarding of the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award for contributions to the quality of life in Kent County and the Vincent Hynson Memorial Youth awards. Two individuals will receive the humanitarian award, one adult and one young person.
The Vincent Hynson awards honor the memory of the community activist, teacher and pastor who died in 2004. They are presented to Kent County Middle School students who demonstrate and practice community involvement and good citizenship.
In a sermon in Atlanta only a few weeks before his assassination in the spring of 1968, King spoke about service to others. “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve,” he told the congregation. “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. … You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”
We can make King’s message endure on Monday, and all year long.