Welcome to the Land of King!
by Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D.
Ladies and gentlemen, I write to you today from Atlanta, Georgia, USA, the birthplace and national shrine of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), clergyman, civil rights leader, social activist, Nobel Prize laureate, and martyr to the cause of justice.
I write to welcome you to the land where one man made the word “justice” a living reality, where one man’s relentless and indomitable pursuit of justice for his people, and for people everywhere, changed history through nonviolent protest.
I write to welcome you to the land where one’s man’s vision changed a nation’s identity, conscience, and heritage of slavery and abuse of African Americans, and of all people living in bondage, seeking opportunity, screaming for dignity.
It was here, more than 50 years ago, in Atlanta, Georgia, and in a thousand other places across the land – from Alabama to Chicago, from Washington, DC, to California – the deep, resonant, baritone voice of a black man electrified the air with words of such magnitude, of such righteousness, of such eloquence, of such truth, they crushed historical roots oppression, lifting the human spirit to new levels of hope.
It was here, in Atlanta, Georgia, a black man refused to be silenced, denying fear, injury, and pain, and threats, dangers, and risks to life. It was here, and across the land, hundreds of thousands hearkened to King’s inspiring words, joining in protests at costs to their safety, health, and life.
The task before King, and for countless others taking the cause of justice in those tumultuous years, was to undo a history of oppression and to build a future founded on laws that guarantee justice, equality, and liberty, regardless of race, creed, color, gender, or any social identity marker.
This, then, is the pressing challenge of life in our global age, as nations withdraw from social responsibilities and dismiss ideals promised by government and guaranteed by universal human rights and accepted moral codes.
Today, in celebration, we gather to share ideas, to seek wisdom, to pursue inspiration, and to bond in common purpose, in honor of Reverend King’s legacy. Let me, however, be clear in my message:
I do not write to tell you that the profound changes inspired by King and countless others who followed his ways in the 1960s are sufficient. Nor do I write to tell you that we must be content with the many broken political barriers, proud of social advances, and patient with remaining challenges.
I write today to tell you King’s words are enshrined in stone to remind us that the struggle for justice will always continue. I write to you today to tell you the fierce and exhausting struggle beginning in the Land of King 50 years ago has not ended, and will continue for generations to come.
I write today to tell you that the roots of hate, ignorance, and evil endure, nurtured by the protective veils of government corruption, cronyism, greed, and religious prejudices sanctioned by dogma and custom. I call upon you today to join King’s call to justice, now more than 50 years old, as it still echoes throughout our global age.
Listen! Can you hear the cries of the masses around the world who lead lives of desperation, lives devoid of hope, lives existing from moment to moment, each breath lacking reflexive assurance the next breath will come, bringing temporary solace to an aching body and mind.
Today, we are engaged in a global struggle for justice. There are victims of war and violence. There are victims of labor, gender, and child exploitation. There are victims of oppression; there are victims denied freedom. All victims yearn for recognition, support, and justice. All victims are you, for there is no other! This was the message in King’s words.
Answering King’s call and the call of billions of others living amid injustice will not be easy! Heeding King’s call will add burdens to conscience, press discomforting responsibilities upon daily rounds, and risk threat to security.
In answering the call, your life will not be the same. You will be required to face harsh realities; you will be singled out for abuse from reactionary forces whose accepted inhumanity keeps them locked in hate. Your life itself will be at risk.
What will not be at risk, however, is your personal integrity, your dignity, your identity, and your position of gratitude, respect, and admiration in the heart and minds of those you help.
Pursuit of justice is not for the faint of heart. You can expect condemnation, ridicule, insults, entrapment, and defamation. Costs are high, but rewards are more than gold or silver. Rewards come in knowing that in our brief time on Earth, you have done something to advance the cause of justice.
This week, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., our posts offer you exemplars—100 in all—of contemporary peace and nonviolence activists; we celebrate the virtues they, like MLK, personify. Please join us in the cause; celebrate the legacy of MLK, celebrate the efforts of people today who actively pursue the path of peace and justice. See you tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.