We celebrate the birth of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. every year, but I must ask do we celebrate because we have the day off, or do we celebrate in remembering what this leader accomplished.

I was not there but have seen and read about The Great Civil Rights movement, the peaceful March on Washington D.C. with over 250,000 people, the jailings, the “I Have a Dream” speech, and many other great moments culminating with an unjust assassination of a great human in every sense of the word. I have been to many celebrations and even preached at a few. I remember the questions, “Is the dream still alive?” “Have we arrived at the mountaintop?” and all too often, “Are we any better today than we were then?”

These are all difficult questions to answer as we will all have different perspectives, but those different perspectives are important because in discussing it from those perspectives we can come up with answers and more questions. But most importantly we would do it together and respect each other. We would do it non-violently. We would answer with hope. If we could accomplish this then yes, the dream is still alive.

Do you remember the dream? Its stated goals included demands for desegregated public accommodations and public schools, redress of violations of constitutional rights, and an expansive federal works program to train employees.

In his speech, he said, “My four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” and the desire to “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. … And when this happens,” he bellowed in his closing remarks, “and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, Black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

I had the privilege of hearing retired Bishop Edward Braxton give a talk on “The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: What If He Was Still Alive Today?” I know Dr. King would be devastated by the recent violent upheaval in our nation’s capital, a place he went to and accomplished so much in a peaceful way.

In Braxton’s letter of April 2018, he noted the following:

  • Dr. King would have been proud of his nine-year-old granddaughter and her impressive presentation at the March for Our Lives against gun violence.
  • He might be even more impressed by the way the Black Lives Matter Movement has drawn attention to its concerns and demonstrations via social media.
  • He might have watched the television presentation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, with the African American singer John Legend singing the role of the Christ. Whatever else he may have thought of the production, he would have been happy to see so much racial diversity in the cast. If someone had taken him to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, Dr. King would have been equally pleased to see important historical figures (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and Hamilton himself) portrayed by African Americans. He might have nudged the person next to him and said, “We would not have seen this in 1968.”
  • Dr. King would have taken note of the eight-year presidency of Barack Obama, the country’s first bi-racial president. He might have been quite surprised and encouraged by the fact that a youthful African American senator from Illinois was elected and re-elected. He would surely appreciate the President’s efforts to reform healthcare laws for the benefit of the poor and uninsured.
  • Dr. King, the drum major for justice and peace, who walked in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi working for non-violent conflict resolution, would have surely grieved over the deaths of so many young African American men in violent conflicts with white representatives of law enforcement.
  • Undoubtedly, utterly fascinated by Google, YouTube, the enormous capacity of mobile phones and all the forms of social media that did not exist and were not even thought of in 1968, it would have been hard to keep Dr. King away from a computer. Since he saw equal opportunities for a good education for People of Color as the central goal of the Civil Rights Movement, he might have hailed the computer as the greatest educational device ever to be developed with a tremendous power for good, as well as for harm.

The night before he was murdered, Dr. King uttered these simple words. “We aren’t engaged in any negative protests and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people.”

We will not know what would have happened if Dr. King lived, but we do know what can happen because we are alive and linked to this dream as a people of hope and character. I believe his dream lives on in each of us and we have an obligation to see justice for all and live up to the freedoms our forefathers sought in coming to this country.

I would like to conclude with a few quotes from Dr. King:

  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
  • “We may have all come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now.”
  • “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
  • “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
  • “The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win, and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”
  • “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.”
  • “The time is always right, to do what is right.”

I pray that we will learn from history, recognize we are in this together and treat each other with love. Happy Martin Luther King Day and I know the dream is alive because it is with me. I hope it is also within you.

Father Reginald Norman is the pastor at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Wilton.

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