By Denzel McCampbell
Today we celebrate and give recognition to the life and the work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We are sure to hear quotes from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and many of us can recite some of the most popular lines. However, every year I seek to find lesser known words by Dr. King, words that are overlooked by the history books and annual news clips honoring the civil and human rights icon, but are just as applicable to current times as they were when he said them. This year I want to write about one quote that has stuck in my mind as we step into new territory in 2017.
The quote comes from the speech he gave in New York City’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before his assassination in Memphis. In this speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about issues beyond the Jim Crow laws and other aspects of the Civil Rights Movement that many only associate him with. In this speech, he spoke about an upcoming revolution of values. He spoke about the need to shift from a “thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society” and warned about the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.”
In the revolution of values and the shift of society, he mentioned that we must go from helping on life’s roadside to transforming the entire road and said the following: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
Much of, if not all of, Dr. King’s speech in April 1967 can be applied to what we are experiencing in 2017. His quote about compassion makes me think about the fight for transformative policies and change in this country. The fight for economic justice is not just about raising the minimum wage, but it is about ensuring that no family in this country goes without an adequate quality of life. Marriage equality is but a sliver of the fight for LGBTQ equality. Beyond that, many advocates are fighting to ensure that no one faces danger, homelessness, poverty, violence, and ridicule because of who they are, who they love, and how they live their lives. Women’s rights, immigrant rights, rights for the disability community, the fight to end wars and American imperialism, and so on. This fight is not about one reform or one band-aid solution, but it is about how we will change the current system into one that is equitable, just, and welcoming for every individual.
So as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and as we enter a year marked with a new administration and a year marked with uncertainty, we should remember that we must work towards a path to transformational change for this country and the system in which we live under. This path is not, will not, and has never been easy, but it is the right path, the just path, and the path that gets us to a people-oriented society driven by shared community values.
Thank you, Dr. King.