The measure of the man

  • Sunday, January 15, 2017 1:00am
  • Neighbors

Martin Luther King Jr. was born Jan. 15, 1929. He began his college education at 15 obtaining his B.A. from Morehouse College in 1948 and received his doctorate from Boston College in 1955. He followed his grandfather and father as a minister of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He and his wife Coretta (who was an incredibly intelligent and talented woman in her own right) have four children.

Dr. King was a prolific writer producing 22 books and numerous scholarly articles. He was the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He won the Noble Peace Prize and used the money to forward civil rights. Unfortunately this column is simply not long enough to provide the readers more than a very brief look into the life of this truly remarkable human being. His accomplishments as well as the prejudice he suffered but persevered through are legendary.

When he spoke, people listened. What he said is just as important today as it was 50 or more years ago. King’s ‘I Have A Dream” speech is not only considered one of the most moving and profound speeches in history, it shows how far we have come, and most unfortunately how far we still need to go. Eight years ago, and again four years ago, our country voted for a black president. We declared ourselves (finally) free of prejudice. Unfortunately that is far from the truth. Prejudice, hate fueled rhetoric, xenophobia, intolerance and bigotry raises its very ugly head in ways that should shame each and every one of us.

What can we do to combat the current political and fear filled atmosphere we find ourselves in today? Dr. King told us that “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but we must take it because our conscience tells us it is right. There is a time when silence is betrayal and our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter: In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

He reminded us that “ Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Hate cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other. So we must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”

Dr. King has been gone a long time. I can’t help but wonder whether he would be disappointed that his dream still has not been realized. I think he would tell us we have not come as far as he would have hoped. He would encourage us to continue working towards being a better, more knowledgable, empathetic country where we strive to continue to move our society forward. He once famously stated that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” In that regard, King lived his life as the tallest amongst us.

• Chava Lee is the Board President of the Congregation Sukkat Shalom.

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