Remembering Dr. King: Now is the Time to Strengthen the Mantle of Civic Engagement and Civil Discourse and Forge Ahead
April 4, 2018
By: Kendra Brown
Fifty years ago today, the world lost one of our greatest leaders. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a hero, yet he was one of us. One may ask, what was it that made him have such a profound impact in such a short amount of time? From his call for civil discourse and an unwavering commitment to the dire struggles of those facing injustice to his refusal to back down from those perpetuating the degradation of civil rights, Dr. King led a life of sounding the alarm in the face of inequality. In today’s climate, where so much negativity abounds, where injustice can often be determined by your zip code, your race, or your gender, we often find ourselves at odds with the very notion of civility and the definition of discourse.
When speaking of Dr. King and his legacy, words often fail to adequately describe his profound impact. However, the Zulu term “Ubuntu” touches upon the philosophy Dr. King embodied. President Barack Obama, during the funeral of Nelson Mandela, referenced the word, saying
"There is a word in South Africa – Ubuntu – a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us."
Similar to the great Nelson Mandela, Dr. King realized this very notion—that our very existence is predicated on the existence, compassion, and shared experiences of others. The reason Dr. King was in Memphis that fateful week in 1968 was to rally for the sanitation workers who were a part of the Memphis Sanitation Worker’s Strike. While many have deemed this his final cause, I posit that his final cause served as an impetus and clarion call ringing in perpetuity for all to advocate and fight for those facing injustice anywhere. It is a call to stand united in amplification of the voices of those in need and those facing inequities, oppression, struggle and disparities.
Injustice must be coupled with empathy, meaning our lived experience is a shared struggle with our brothers and sisters. We must continue the work, strengthen the mantles of civic engagement and civil discourse, and forge ahead standing upon the broad shoulders of those who paved the way and standing with the present voices that are guiding us into our future. We cannot let the mantle slip. Our time is now.
Kendra Brown is the senior director for diversity, inclusion and affinity in the AUWCL Office of Diversity and Inclusion.