Commentary: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been gone for almost fifty years. Despite his absence, his words and powerful living example continue to reach out with authority across all these decades and speak directly to our times and lives today.
These are extraordinary times, just as they were in the 1950s and 60s when Dr. King’s religious, social, and political ministry flourished. Those were days of turmoil and extraordinary challenges, just as things are today. Those were days when we wondered if we were going to make it to tomorrow, just as many feel today. Those were days when we knew so many things felt wrong, and we hoped that someone could help lead us out of the chaos. Just like today.
Much has been written about Dr. King’s life and legacy. One must wonder: If he were alive today, what would Dr. King have to say about some of the challenges we face in our modern world today?
Race. While progress has been made in some areas, there is still too much judging of a person by the color of their skin instead of the content of their character. I believe Dr. King would be disappointed, especially with the racial divide that was once again exposed in the last presidential election and in the days since. This is a divide that never seems to go away.
The political climate in America. One political party continues its long tradition favoring a certain economic privilege. What is new since Dr. King’s time is that the other party largely abandoned its traditional support of working class people in favor of those same moneyed interests. Dr. King would counter his disappointment about this by seeking fellowship with a new coalition of all those now being left out.
Money Inequality. Globalization. Institutionalized Poverty. Lack of good jobs and opportunities. Corporate greed. Robotization. These issues are intertwined, and Dr. King would be frustrated and disapproving of how things have gone backwards from similar troubled conditions of his day. Dr. King sought economic justice, and fought against economics used as weaponry. He might be leading marches on Wall Street or Silicon Valley today.
Sexual harassment of women in the workplace? He would be front and center leading the charge against abuse of power in the workplace and the dehumanization of taking advantage of another person as being a cost of their employment. He might be leading marches down the streets of Hollywood, California today.
The rise of technology to ring in humans and create dependency upon it? He would be vigorously against anything that takes away from the potential and dignity of a human being. If technology is used to help or lift someone up, he would applaud it. But if it were being used to enslave or debilitate our lives, his response would be to resist it everywhere he saw it.
The emphasis on Self? He stood for the exact opposite - working to raise the economic and spiritual level of others. He would be shocked and profoundly disappointed to have witnessed the rapid development of the Me-First Culture and total lack of interest by so many today in the betterment of others in our human family. And there is the related issue of so many today who seek to divide us from each other. Dr. King stood for bringing people together. And instead of the modern tendency of dehumanizing the human family, Dr. King would toil to lift us up.
It has been said that America is incomplete and always work in progress. The same can be said of the example and work set out by Dr. King. We as individuals and as a society are always in a state of becoming. Challenges and ills are always with us. They always will be. But Dr. King gave us a living road map to be our guide for this epic journey. That might be his greatest legacy of all. Just as it was back then, that is the path forward if we summon his courage to follow it. Having hope and faith and an unshakable commitment to being the very best human being you can be in the face of anything and everything that comes your way. That is the timeless message and profound gift of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.