“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke those words at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963, as America was tossed into a tempest of racial unrest. Nearly 60 years later, there’s still plenty of unrest.
On Monday, we’ll mark King’s life and legacy with a national holiday. It’s now been 39 years since the birthday of this iconic figure in the civil rights movement was rightly designated as such by Congress.
Sometimes in the years since his death, people ask a question that’s intriguing, but impossible to answer. “If Martin Luther King were alive today, what would he think of …?”
Certainly, if King had not been cut down by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis almost 54 years ago, and if he had lived to see his 93rd birthday, 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 Black citizens and its white citizens.
He would have seen a political divide that has widened considerably in the last several years. He would have seen a nasty discord among many Americans that splits us into red and blue just as much as into Black and white. He would have seen a worldwide pandemic rage into what will be its third year, affecting people of color disproportionately.
Again, King: “The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
He would have seen these things and more. What exactly he would have thought of all of them, and by word and deed influenced our perception of them, is pure speculation. But it is food for thought.
So what can we do to appropriately mark the holiday? Here in Southern Maryland, we have choices, although many of those have once again been curtailed to virtual because of the pandemic.
First thing Monday morning, the 18th annual Southern Maryland Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Celebration will be held virtually, with the theme “The Urgency of Creating the Beloved Community,” via Zoom. Registration is required for this free event at smcm.edu/mlk/. The college program will begin at 8 a.m., and features a keynote address by Mary Frances Berry, an activist in the cause of civil rights, gender equality and social justice.
Following the program, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Nu Zeta Omega Chapter will host a day of service, accepting donations of nonperishable food, teen-sized winter clothes, new or gently worn shoes and eyeglasses at both of these locations: Global Village at 7383 Global Village Way in Dameron and Mattawoman Middle School at 10145 Berry Road in Waldorf.
The NAACP Charles County Branch will host its 27th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast on Monday starting at 9 a.m., also virtual. The theme of this year’s event is “Always Fighting Forward,” and it will feature words from Rodney C. Burris, author and international speaker, as the keynote speaker. Individuals interested can visit ccnaacpmlk2022.eventbrite.com for ticket information.
Also on Monday, Jan. 17, NAACP Calvert Branch #7011 will host its day of service event at East John Youth Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteers are needed to help paint rooms, renovate a storage unit, donate painting supplies and donate dollars toward a new shed. Students receive service learning hours. For more information or to sign up to help, call 240-719-6966 or email NAACPCalvert@gmail.com.
And, Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center in Solomons will celebrate King’s life and legacy on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Jan. 15, 16 and 17, from noon to 4 p.m. each day with a creative and uplifting community art event, “Only Love: A Poster Printing Party,” inspired by the work of artist Sarah Matthews and the words of King. Activities are appropriate for all ages. A special exhibit featuring Matthews’ work will also be on display. Admission is free, but registration is required at www.annmariegarden.org.
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.