By Zainab Chaudry
Raindrops splatter against the window – briefly clinging to its cool, damp surface before slowly sliding down and collecting into amorphic pools on the pane. The myriad of drops represent people, the descent – their lifespan from birth to death. Each drop begins as a single entity. Gradually as it makes its descent, it merges with others along the way – simultaneously absorbing and imparting en route to its destination. We are like these drops, absorbing and imparting through life’s travels until we arrive at the end of our journey.
On January 15th, civil rights icon, Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 89 years old. MLK Jr. Day is just around the corner. Lulled by the rain’s rhythmic symphony as I sip my tea, I find myself reflecting on his immense contributions to society. Its amazing how much our perception evolves as we grow older. As a child, I remember taking part in school assemblies and activities dedicated to honoring his vision and achievements. But I didn’t begin to truly appreciate Dr. King’s legacy until I became involved in activism myself.
A clergyman born in Atlanta, GA, MLK Jr. was a prominent leader in the African American civil rights movement and is best remembered for the advancement of his cause through civil disobedience. He was one of the first public speakers of his time to speak out against the Vietnam War. He was also one of the greatest orators in American history, with a gift for inspiring and motivating audiences with his powerful, heartfelt speeches.
Dr. King credited Gandhi as being one of his greatest inspirations because of his success with non-violent activism. After visiting Gandhi’s birthplace in India in 1959, King was quoted as saying: “I am more convinced than ever that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity.” His commitment to ensuring a peaceful resolution for the civil rights movement gained the respect of the world and earned Dr. King a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Although all of Dr. King’s notable speeches have been indelibly engraved into the pages of history, one I find particularly inspirational is his “I Have a Dream” speech. One excerpt reads:
“There is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
In his message, Dr. King stressed the importance of using non-violent means to achieve end results. This is especially relevant in today’s culture of violence marked by numerous school/public arena shootings and high murder rates that, in part, dominate the national discourse.
Our country has progressed remarkably in the last 50 years in terms of bridging the racial divide. Our black president is being sworn into office today to serve his second term. But as I reflect on the current political and socioeconomic climate we live in, I can’t help wondering what Dr. King would say about our America today. Institutions like Guantanamo harbor detainees under deplorable conditions without access to attorneys or a trial. Legislation like the NDAA makes a mockery of due process. Our Executive Branch possesses unilateral power to authorize drone strikes that kill innocent people in remote regions of the world as we continue to wage wars on multiple fronts. The powerful NRA battles executive attempts to control gun violence after school children and numerous citizens have lost their lives in senseless, tragic attacks. Government officials have blanket authority to conduct warrantless surveillance of our country’s citizens. And the list goes on.
Dr. King had a vision for our country, and he sacrificed and worked hard for that vision to be realized. The invaluable contributions he made through his wisdom, foresight, courage, and patience helped pave the road for those that have followed in his path. As I reflect on how far we have come as a nation, I recognize there is still much work to be done to protect the ideals of America. Each one of us has an individual responsibility to transform our culture of violence and to advocate for peace and religious tolerance. We must petition our elected officials and call for an end to war and drone attacks targeting children and innocent civilians. Our government should be held accountable for upholding our Constitutional rights and protecting its citizens.
Dr. King realized the beauty of America lies in her freedoms, values, and diversity. He affirmed, despite the difficulties and challenges of the times, that he had a dream, deeply rooted in the American dream, that one day our nation would live true to its belief that all men are created equal. His work and beliefs continue to inspire me. As I work for justice, equality, and peace, I renew my commitment to keep in mind Dr. King’s vision and the founding fathers’ creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”