Remarks at Martin Luther King Observances

January 24, 2019
January 20 - 21, 2019

I’m honored to join you today for this community-wide observance, one of many across the Triangle, as we celebrate Martin Luther King’s life and teachings and resolve to carry on his legacy.

I expect you share my sense that we need this observance, this occasion of renewed commitment and inspiration, more than ever this year. Michael Eric Dyson described our situation well: “As America in its present incarnation, with its present leadership, teeters toward an arrogance, isolationism, and self-importance that are the portals of moral decline and political self-destruction, the nation must recall the faith of Martin Luther King Jr. He saw faith as a tool for change, a constant source of inspiration to remake the world in the just and redemptive image of God.”

We often think of the King holiday as a time to take stock of how far we’ve come and how far we’ve got to go. In that spirit, I looked back at a question I posed on this occasion a year ago: “How do North Carolina and our country measure up today?”

What do you make of a tax bill so heavily skewed toward the privileged? Or of our own country almost totally turning its back on desperate refugees? Or of the refusal to extend health insurance to the millions who need it or of proposals to cut back coverage for millions more? Or of the waiting lists for affordable housing numbering thousands in every major American city?

Considering this list, it is easy to become discouraged. We’d be hard-pressed to identify progress in any of these areas, and in many the situation has only gotten worse. But in the meantime, there has been one significant change: the people have spoken. We have had an election!

We have had an election that sets records in time of turnout and engagement and that was rightly interpreted as a rebuke of the president and a demand for policies that more accurately reflect our nation's values, at home and abroad. I take it as a mandate to address every item on that disgraceful list: economic injustice, indifference to desperate people, refusing the basic human needs of health care and decent housing - and much, much more. Even in the midst of a foolish and reckless government shutdown, we can see a new day coming. And what better time than the King holiday, not only to welcome that new day but to commit ourselves to fully realizing its promise?

Just before he died, Dr. King set out a goal for himself that we all might aspire to: let us live lives, he said, of “dangerous unselfishness”. Let us be bold, in empathizing with our fellow human beings and in facing what we must do, individually and collectively, personally and politically, to realize the beloved community.

“Be concerned about your brother”, Dr. King admonished. “You may not be on strike. But either we go up together or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of ‘dangerous unselfishness’.” Amen.