As the United States of America pauses to honor the 93rd birthday of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our nation stumbles into the moment anemic. Weakened by a worldwide pandemic, exploitative poverty, and endemic violence, the U.S. marks another MLK day with performative charity and platitudes without truly taking the opportunity to uplift and amplify Dr. King’s legacy.
It is nearly impossible to drown out the many cries for help coming from our streets – from the families of school-aged children who wonder if their child will be safe, the rural communities that struggle to protect its people due to a lack of access to adequate healthcare and economic opportunity, to the person who’s incarcerated and instead of working toward reintegrating themselves back into the community once they fulfill the terms of their criminal sentence. Every year illuminates these cries but to no avail. The resulting despair from unanswered calls of their pain and desperation casts a cloud of darkness in which any true celebration of his legacy becomes nearly impossible.
Unfortunately, millions ignore these cries for help, but like Dr. King, there are those who commit to tediously working to realize his vision. Tragically, that vision has still not become a reality, but we still work to create what he called the “beloved community.” So as public figures, elected officials, and private citizens alike rush to recite popular King quotes, which to some demonstrates a valued appreciation for his contributions, the darkness of inequality still looms. Inequity and suffering persist as our leaders deny the very prospect of progress in which Dr. King committed so much of his life trying to perfect.
Today, the nation finds itself in the heart of an existential crisis – our democratic institutions are under threat from insidious forces that seek to divide the soul of our nation. And yet, there remains a slow yet prophetic knock on the door of eternity. This knock interrupts the normal dealings of life in which we all conveniently use to block the wailing cries of democracy. This knock disrupts our habitual ignorance to the obnoxious conditions of racism and poverty all around. Knock, knock, knock.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knocked on the door of eternity. He challenged us to not give in nor give up in our march toward justice and freedom. He observed a world that continued to threaten human existence and violate human personality. He angrily heard the cries of people who are not only violently silenced but forcefully removed from any agency of being. Yet, in a calm yet powerful tone, he simply asked:
“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’”
Dr. King never assured us that everything was going to be okay. Nor did he offer condolences or propose alternatives. He just simply asked a question, the same question that the gospel according to Luke poses. Which of us has a friend that will go to them in the darkness of the night and offer them rest and sustenance? Which one of us will be a neighbor to the weary traveler? Similarly, democracy and freedom are knocking and it is with this simple question that I challenge us all in this moment.
We acknowledge in the spirit of Dr. King that though in darkness, our nation is on a journey. We currently are facing obstacles and challenges that could very well render the darkness impossible to overcome, yet we press on. We press on by reaching back into eternity and retrieving the three loaves – faith, hope, and love – and continuing the journey to make our society more just for all.
Democracy is in peril, poverty is rampant, and racism is alive and well, yet as friends we can set the table of freedom and justice. Dr. King, alongside so many others, was able to prepare a feast large enough to affirm the God-given rights of human personality, despite this nation’s persistence in attempted denial.
As the failures of American democracy have continued to threaten the general welfare of us as a people, we are challenged with, yet again, an opportunity to prepare a table using these three loaves of prophetic legacy. It may not be always easy –we face institutional barriers and structural procedures that prevent us from securing the very promise of human personality – but we try anyway. It may be dark and many face despair, but we hold on to our power that comes from our natural existence. We hear the knocking at midnight, and we rise from this moment lifted “from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope.” That is the legacy of Dr. King.
Rev. James Woodall
Rev. James Woodall currently serves as Public Policy Associate of the Southern Center for Human Rights, Founder/CEO of The Major Wish Group LLC and former State President of Georgia NAACP. James is also an Associate Minister at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. James also served as an Intelligence Analyst in the U.S. Army Reserve for 8 years. He ran for State Representative in 2016 and served on the State Committee of the Democratic Party of Georgia. He previously served as the deputy campaign manager for Francys Johnson’s (D) 2018 bid for Congress and as the legislative aide to State Representative Miriam Paris (D) for three years in the Georgia General Assembly. James is a Fellow of the second class of the Civil Society Fellowship, a Partnership of ADL and The Aspen Institute, and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.