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Bob’s Blog: In The MLK Spirit

As we welcome this coming holiday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I admit to having a mindset struggling with two competing themes about whether, nearly 55 years after his death, our nation is closer to MLK’s aspirational vision for America, or further away.  The optimist in me says “we are much closer” and the realist in me says “we are further away.”

Dr. King’s speeches, sermons, and writings speak to a myriad of issues related to social and racial justice in America, but the one I most cherish is — along with the iconic Congressmember/civil rights activist John Lewis – is that of The Beloved Community.  Dr. King and John Lewis asserted that the true aim of the civil rights movement is to see an America of full, unapologetic inclusion and belonging; with justice-health-economic inclusion for all; with full democratic participation; and a society honestly facing and grappling with racism and bigotry.

The optimist sees a nation that has realized Black folks and folks of color are now represented in the White House, in Congress, in state legislatures and city halls, leading universities and colleges, as CEOs, and corporate boardrooms.  Persons of color, women, and members of the LGBTQIA community are now visible leaders-doers across every element of our nation’s civic and cultural spectrum.  Not so in 1950s America.

The realist/pessimist in me says that the Trump-fueled unmasking of white supremacy and nativist politics has divided this nation in a manner we have not witnessed since the Civil War — with increasing incidents and events of anti-Black racism, anti-immigrant and Asian hate, antisemitism, resurgent voter suppression policies, a Supreme Court-navigated attack on women’s rights, and the political targeting and scapegoating of the Queer and Trans communities.  Not to mention the sizable wealth gap and matter of economic inclusion that appears to widen rather than close over time in our nation.

You know how a trip to the zoo with your kids, or maybe a theme park, or a university campus offers a map with a little red dot that says, “You Are Here”?  I need one of these maps for the social and racial justice trajectory of our nation – where exactly are we?

Today, it feels like the realist/pessimist frame is better grounded in data and evidence – so it’s a more compelling winning argument.  But the MLK holiday should also remind us – and it certainly reminds me – about the critical role and value of faith.  The civil rights movement of the 1950s-1960s America was largely grounded in communities and leaders of faith; in many traditions, faith represents a belief in that which is unseen and not experienced.  In the metaphor of sports, as excellent coaches will articulate, “don’t look at the scoreboard, just play hard.”

I had a former pastor of mine once express, “Faith means to do what ya gotta do – and leave the rest up to the Lord.” (or leave it up to the Universe, or The Matrix, or the Force, or whatever creative energy you believe in.)

So, what does “doing what we gotta do” look like?  From the standpoint of one leader in philanthropy, it looks something like this:

  • Invest in the community and grassroots organizing. Community organizing and the voices of the most oppressed will save our democracy and the nation.
  • We must finish the job of Health for All in our nation – with mental health now occupying an even greater role.
  • We must close youth prisons and de-carcerate our jails; our nation needs a “care first, jails last” ethos.
  • For oppressed, ignored, and marginalized communities, capitalism has been unkind; but our communities need capital and full economic inclusion.
  • We must durably and consistently confront anti-Black racism – but the stories and histories of all oppressed communities must not be forgotten. Multi-racial coalitions and transformative solidarity are the keys to a vibrant participatory democracy.

Thank you, Dr. King — and John Lewis, the Reverend James Lawson, Fannie Lou Hamer, Diane Nash, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Marian Wright Edelman – and those who reminded us about the pursuit of the real prize on the hill for America: The Beloved Community.  And faith to fight the good fight, whatever the odds.

Dr. Bob Ross

 

 

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