As individuals, it is easy to forget that our lives are interconnected with others. In America, we pride ourselves as a country built on the independence and innovation of individuals. The greater truth is that it is almost impossible to make a decision without touching the life of another.
In a letter from Martin Luther King to Coretta Scott King dated October 1960, King said,
I have the faith to believe that this excessive suffering that is now coming to our family will in some little way serve to make Atlanta a better city, Georgia a better state, and America a better country.
He wrote this while incarcerated at the state prison in Reidsville, roughly 230 miles outside of Atlanta.
Dr. King understood that his decision to resist racial oppression in every form was critical to the development of an integrated, equitable society. Making America a better country was not going to happen behind the pulpit. He was not alone in this resistance. There were men and women across the country fighting and suffering on behalf of the call to justice and equity. The decision to suffer in the present with an eye to the future is not an easy pill to swallow. In the face of injustice, we often want change to happen quickly. We want others to do what is right, especially when it will relieve our own discomfort and suffering.
It makes sense: If I am hurting, and you have the power and influence necessary to relive my pain, then I want you to move quickly. It makes sense, but it isn’t easy. Often doing the right thing can be scary and intimidating. That is why life examples like Dr. King and others are so important. They stand to remind us that what might seem like insignificant choices on our part to stand for what is right and honorable are ultimately important to the greater whole.
Recently, I attended the Race Exhibit, hosted by the Pacific Science Center, with my family. I saw a quote posted there by Dr. King which read, “The old law about an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind, the time is always right to do the right thing.” Dr. King represented for the world the necessity of personal investment in a movement that was larger than himself, but which called for his involvement. He and others stood for the right to justice and equality for all people regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and religion.
As we remember Dr. King, his family, and fellow freedom fighters, we have to see with clear vision beyond the nostalgia that his “I Have A Dream” speech may bring. Inequity still exists and some continue to walk blindly through life as though we are not interconnected. Each day, we are presented with an opportunity to do the right thing. When we choose to do what is right, what is equitable, what is fair, then we as individuals are making a movement towards the creation of a better country.