As we pause today to celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we can’t help but reflect on the past year.
Since we last gathered, we’ve had some struggles, and they have been both gut and heart wrenching.
The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor shook so many of us to our core, and the struggle for justice for them, and for so many others, as well as their families, continues.
They were taken too soon, as was Dr. King, who would be 92 this year. We are fortunate that his words and his example still reside with us.
The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor renewed a movement long under way – the pursuit of equity and justice for all people, no matter their color, race, economic status, religion, and so forth – the very issues Dr. King helped bring to the forefront in the 1960s.
Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Our youth have picked up his baton and carried it forward to cities and communities across the nation, including here in Rockland County, and it is wonderful to see that those calling for changes are from all backgrounds, just as those inspired by Dr. King were some 50 years ago.
Many of us are also struggling with the loss of a loved one, a friend or co-worker due to COVID-19. For people of color, this pandemic has hit disproportionately hard. Outside New York City, Blacks account for 14 percent of fatalities from this disease but only make up 9 percent of the population. In New York City, it is even worse. Blacks make up 22 percent of the population but account for 28 percent of fatalities; Hispanics make up 29 percent of the population but account for 34 percent of the fatalities.
I heard Dr. King’s voice in my own efforts to try to help when I worked, with others, to bring two testing sites to Spring Valley, home to the largest number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in Rockland County: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
Only by working together, will we ever overcome this pandemic.
Many of us also saw relatives, friends and co-workers lose their jobs – their paychecks and their health care – because of the pandemic. So many have struggled and wondered how they will put food on the table, pay their heating bills and their mortgage or rent, with people of color, women and older workers hit hardest.
The political chaos has also stressed everyone, with the shameful attack on the U.S. Capitol both frightening and angering most Americans.
But the dark days have also offered glimmers of hope. On Wednesday, a new administration will be put in place when Joe Biden is sworn in as President and Kamala Harris, the first-generation daughter of immigrants, the first Black person, the first Asian person and the first woman will be sworn in as U.S. Vice President – what an achievement!
Also on the achievement front, Reverend Raphael Warnock won the U.S. Senate race in Georgia, becoming the state’s first Black Senator and only the 11th Black Senator in U.S. history. His running mate, Jon Ossoff, also won, making him the first Jewish Senator from Georgia.
For any government to function at its best, it is important that the voices, knowledge and insight of all of its people – women, people from communities of color, and people of different religions, etc. – be at the table.
Growing up, Rev. Warnock saw Dr. King as a mentor, and he earned a Ph.D. in theology that eventually led to him becoming head pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the same church where the Rev. King preached. Talk about full circle!
So, we see these lights shining through the darkness and we hold onto the hope they offer. There is no doubt that the challenges continue, but soon, we will all hopefully be able to get the vaccine and return to normal living. Normal living must include equity when it comes to justice, education, health care, employment opportunities, and more.
For, as Dr. King said, “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
In the United States of America, those very real promises of democracy must apply to all!
Happy 92nd Birthday to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Happy MLK Day to all!