WWS Blog

Day of Reflection on MLK Jr. Day

Jan 19, 2015
Published by:
Shasti Conrad, MPA '15 & Ricardo Hurtado, MPA '15

We wanted to share some timely words from Dr. King this holiday to give some perspective on our day-to-day work to support communities of color in the United States and worldwide.  It’s important to honor the spirit of these efforts in our own work, no matter how small our own individual or collective efforts may seem sometimes. 

 
On December 7, 1964, a few days before he received the Noble Peace Prize, Dr. King addressed thousands of people in London with a message that covered segregation, the fight for civil rights, and his support for Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.  The full speech can be found here.  I’ve included some excerpts below. 
 
But there is a desperate, poignant question on the lips of people all over our country and all over the world. I get it almost everywhere I go and almost every press conference. It is a question of whether we are making any real progress in the struggle to make racial justice a reality in the United States of America. And whenever I seek to answer that question, on the one hand, I seek to avoid an undue pessimism; on the other hand, I seek to avoid a superficial optimism. And I try to incorporate or develop what I consider a realistic position, by admitting on the one hand that we have made many significant strides over the last few years in the struggle for racial justice, but by admitting that before the problem is solved we still have numerous things to do and many challenges to meet. And it is this realistic position that I would like to use as a basis for our thinking together tonight as we think about the problem in the United States. We have come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go before the problem is solved.
 
There are those individuals who argue that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice in the United States, in South Africa or anywhere else; you’ve got to wait on time. And I know they’ve said to us so often in the States and to our allies in the white community, "Just be nice and be patient and continue to pray, and in 100 or 200 years the problem will work itself out." We have heard and we have lived with the myth of time. The only answer that I can give to that myth is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I must honestly say to you that I’m convinced that the forces of ill will have often used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And we may have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around saying, "Wait on time.
 
And somewhere along the way it is necessary to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always ripe to do right. This is so vital, and this is so necessary.
 
Dr. King’s words are just as relevant today in 2015 as they were in 1964.  As the film Selma clearly illustrated (with a little help from Common and John Legend), Selma is now.  Selma is Ferguson, Selma is NYC, Selma is Princeton. Whether you are a person of color or an ally to the current social movement writing the next chapter of the civil rights movement, remember we do not need to seek permission to act.  Let us seek guidance in pursuing justice with great conviction and support our beloved community.

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