Did you observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this week? If so, what did you do? Do you have an annual ritual around it?
To be entirely honest, its greatest significance to me has usually been that it’s a day off of work. And mostly, it hasn’t even been that. Some years, I’ve barely registered that it’s a holiday. But this year is different. I’d like to say the change is due to some great personal awakening, but mostly it’s because of my job. By its nature, working to end world hunger requires daily recognition of social injustice. A side effect of my job that I both appreciate and resent is that it’s been impossible to work in this environment and NOT become more aware of inequality and my role in it.
Did you know that Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of only four individuals to have a U.S. federal holiday in his honor? (According to Wikipedia. Points if you can name the other three without looking!) Some of the well-known actions that earned King such status include public speaking, writing, organizing others to stand behind the cause, and employing peaceful activism. His work laid the groundwork for permanent change in laws: the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Right Act. But before he got a holiday, he got jail time, FBI surveillance, a house bombing, and, of course, death.
Which brings me back to my own observation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Clearly I’m supposed to recognize the importance of this man. Should I try to be like him? I have absolutely no interest in going to jail or being watched by authorities. But I do have an interest in ending hunger. And ending hunger requires confronting injustice. And confronting injustice most likely requires me to speak out, write, and stand with others behind the cause – peacefully, of course. So this year, for me, the day was about honestly considering what I’m able and willing to do to achieve social justice. I’m not totally sure of the answer, and I’m no Martin Luther King. But I can call a politician, write a letter to the editor, or donate money. Are things on this scale enough? I generally believe that something is better than nothing, and if everyone does a little, big changes are possible. But sometimes I wonder if I’m only justifying my comfort zone. Still, this smaller, more personal scale of action is where I find myself right now. I’ll work on building from here. And I’ll continue to wonder if the more courageous of you are scoffing at me as you read this from your jail cell.