The Legacy of King's Letter
Today's guest blogger is Angie Chan, a senior Linguistics Major at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, most of Angie's time is spent working with the Interfaith Youth Core's Fellows Alliance program, as well as acting as President of Interfaith Circle, a student-run campus group based on pillars of dialogue, education, and inclusion. Additionally, Angie tutors underprivileged children in an after school program and practices Spanish and Chinese. Angie hopes to go abroad next year to teach English in China.
It was a very cold Monday, only about thirteen degrees. I traipsed through the snow towards the Oxford Memorial Park Pavilion, across the street from the Martin Luther King Jr. Park, a space that's usually filled with children playing in the fountains and riding the stone animals.
Today, on the day of Oxford, Ohio's annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemoration March, I climbed onstage next to religious leaders from the community, who were practicing their excerpts from the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail". I looked out into the crowds of shivering students and Oxford citizens. While I felt very privileged to be there, for a moment, I wondered why I would be onstage, included in this group of mostly white men, reading an excerpt from Dr. King's speech.
The fact that the annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemoration March took place on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama was not lost on me. The pride, unity, and equality King worked to build were no longer ideals or possibilities - but actual, tangible, visible realities. Barack Obama was elected; things had changed.
Again, however, I thought about my presence on the stage. I looked out into the audience, and thought about what it meant to celebrate the work and life of a man who fought for the civil rights of the citizens in one of the most diverse countries in history.
It's important to remember the "Reverend" part of Dr. King's name, the fact that King drew from his religious background to assert his position when he spoke of the equality of man for man's sake. King looked to Mahatma Gandhi for guidance from Hindu principles, and he invited Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to walk alongside him to show solidarity in the Civil Rights Movement. The "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" was directed towards clergymen who had urged King to be patient and to wait for his time to come. Sitting in his jail cell as he wrote, King felt it was important to respond to the criticisms from these influential men. In his letter, Dr. King talked about being unavoidably impatient, being a mover, putting forth direct action.
I looked out into the audience again. Today's version of the clergy who encouraged King to be patient, to wait for his time to come, were likely standing out there in the bitter cold. I realized the reason I was on stage was to act, like King encouraged us to do, to be an unavoidably impatient ally of the oppressed, to be vigilant about the right to exist fully and freely, to make elections like Obama's the norm.
January 21, 2009; 1:44 PM ET
Religion & Leadership
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