In this world of increasing hypervigilance, one of the new maxims is “if you see something, say something.”
While that’s good advice, we’d like to suggest this as well, in the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday coming up Monday: If you feel something, do something.
That was one of the civil rights icon’s guiding principles, as evidenced by how he conducted his public ministry. He keenly felt and experienced injustice as a black man in a Jim Crow-addled America, and took action. Like other social revolutionaries in history, such as Jesus Christ and Gandhi, King had the unmitigated audacity to think that unconditional love for others, thoughtfully fortified by nonviolent protest, could change hearts and minds, and ultimately the world. All three of those men, along with many others throughout the ages — particularly in America during the civil rights movement — were murdered for their efforts. Of course, their impact lives on, informing the thoughts and actions of so many good people today.
Had King not been cut down by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis nearly 52 years ago, and if he had lived to see his 91st birthday this past Wednesday, he would have borne witness to all that the rest of America has seen. Most recently, he would have seen an America that is ostensibly desegregated, but in fact has many gaps that persist between its white citizens and citizens of color. He would have seen a political divide that has widened considerably in just the last few years. He would have seen an increasingly nasty discord among many Americans that splits us into red and blue just as much as into black and white.
But thankfully, as King pointed out many times in his stirring speeches and writings, we’re more alike than we are different. That’s an important point to ponder.
If you’re fortunate enough to have the day off for the MLK holiday, an admirable use of that free time would be to attend the 16th annual Southern Maryland Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Monday’s meal will begin at 6:30 a.m. and costs $10, payable at the door. Although participants will be charged for the breakfast, the program starting at at 8 a.m. in the J. Frank Raley Great Room in the Campus Center is free of charge to all.
This year’s speaker will be Jason Johnson, a professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University. The program will also feature performances by the St. Peter Claver Gospel Choir, a dance group from St. Mary’s Ryken High School and the always popular Spring Ridge Middle School Rhythm Club. In addition to his academic responsibilities at the historically black Baltimore university, Johnson is a political contributor for MSNBC, host on Sirius XM and politics editor at TheRoot.com. He wrote the book “Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell.”
Following the program, beginning at 10 a.m., the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Nu Zeta Omega Chapter will host a day of service, providing services and activities for students of all ages and adults, held within the Campus Center and nearby Aldom Lounge. With the theme “Advocacy and the Arts,” activities will include free blood pressure screenings, a nonperishable food drive, and a drive to collect new or gently worn shoes and eyeglasses.
The annual prayer breakfast draws considerable community attendance, including local government officials, religious leaders and business persons, so get there in plenty of time if you intend to go. In addition to the college and the sorority, its sponsors include the St. Mary’s County Human Relations Commission, St. Mary’s public schools and the College of Southern Maryland. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 240-895-4310.
It’s now been 37 years since King’s birthday was rightly designated as a national holiday by Congress. He knew that all life is interconnected, that all lives matter.
In a sermon in Atlanta only a few weeks before his assassination in the spring of 1968, King spoke about service to others.
“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve,” he told the congregation. “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. … You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”
We can make his message endure on Monday, and all year long. If you feel something, do something. It will absolutely make a difference.