What a powerful experience to come together on Martin Luther King’s birthday to hear and discuss the letter he wrote from the Birmingham Jail. Several years ago the writer had the opportunity to attend a gathering of men and women to a dialogue/disdussion sponsored by the Mankind Project (the event was organized by Mr. Lenny Hoffman who is a member of each group) and The Center for the Healing of Racism both based in Houston, Texas.
As person after person stood up to read a portion of Dr. King’s letter, they also shared how the letter and King’s life had affected them. Their comments were potent, emotional, and thought-provoking. I was impressed how much counsel is found in the sacred circle of storytelling as it was that night.
Dr. Virgil Wood, one of the participants, told us he was a Baptist minister during the Civil Rights era,, and had worked alongside of Dr. King for ten years. He was jailed three times with Dr. King. He was an eyewitness elder so we were very blessed to have him with us that night. He mentioned that the Letter from the Birmingham jail was suffused with the soul of Dr. King. He also observed that he felt that MLK didn’t have a chance to finish his mission: he never got to focus on the economic exploitation of African Americans and other poor and oppressed people.
This writer was again reminded that stress, tension, or inner/outer pressures may lead to creative thinking and solutions to problems; in this case to resolve issues around racism, institutional racism, bias, predjudice.
King wrote in the Birmingham Jail Letter:
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth.
Dr.King protested the Vietnam War, for both the perpetrators and those who are oppressed. It was this imperialistic policy that exploited the people of Vietnam. In Dr. King’s mind, if one person suffered human indignity, then we all suffer. We are all human beings and have this as our common denominator. Each person on this planet is born free, and our inherent Human Rightst can never be stolen from us in the final analysis. Our minds must transform and they must be fought for and preserveds at all costs.
As we observe Martin Luther King Day, in whatever way we choose, let’s remember the essence of his message for us all:
All life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality. (Dr. Martin Luther King)
© Christopher Bear Beam 01/14/2012