Let’s work to keep the words of MLK alive | Commentary

I have been sponsoring and organizing a Martin Luther King, Jr., commemoration on the island for 23 years, always held on Jan. 15, his birthday. We’ve had some wonderful guest speakers and local musicians involved over the years, as well as many of our local clergy. It’s been one of my missions in life to keep the memory of Dr. King alive.

But lately I’ve realized that it isn’t just the memory of him that needs to be kept alive. It’s his words. He has been dead now more years than he was alive. There are generations of people alive today who never heard or saw him, even on television, in their lifetimes. They have only the poor quality tapes from the early ’60s as reference. Of course, he has become a major symbol for civil rights, as well as for peace and non-violence. But symbols can lose their power over time.

How many memorial plaques or statues have you seen in public places and just passed them by? Maybe you read the inscription, but you had no idea what that person worked for or cared about. Dr. King, I believe, could become that sort of ignored and little-understood symbol if we don’t actively seek out and embrace the guidance of his teachings. To me, his words still ring true today — and not just his oft-repeated “I have a Dream” speech. As wonderful and inspirational as it is, there is so much more to Dr. King and his writings.

So for our commemoration this year, I want everyone to share his words. As we all recover from what seems to have been a tempestuous and violent year filled with mass shootings and horrible news from the wars and conflicts around the world, I want to share Dr. King’s hopes for peace. I want to hear his words of encouragement to his discouraged followers and volunteers who struggled with hopelessness in their own time.

This year I don’t want to present just another program that folks can passively enjoy. I want to hear people read Dr. King’s words and tell us how those words relate to their own life now. I want to hear individuals comment on how those words, spoken so long ago, can shape and guide our world and our country at this time in history.

No one will know ahead of time what I’ll be asking them to read. I would love to see this as spontaneous an event as possible. Of course no one will be forced to stand up and read. But for those who are willing, there will be profound words and thoughts to share.

In 1967 Dr. King has this to say about our world: “We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.” Forty-six years later, we still may have a choice. Let’s talk about it.


— Emma Amiad is a real estate agent and community activist.


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