Progress, yes, but more to do on many fronts


It has been quite a year. We have survived the greatest prolonged unemployment since the Great Depression, the greatest attacks on voting rights since segregation, attacks on immigration that would make Lady Liberty blush; and attacks on education so great that they should make every parent cry. When so many of our rights are under attack in so many places all at once, anti-civil rights and anti-human rights extremists are seeking to suppress our vote.

But, we were each made for a purpose, we each got up this morning with a purpose, and we are each here together for a purpose — doing justice, building unity, and furthering the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the organization in which he was raised, the NAACP.

It is hard work — it is important work — but most importantly, it is urgently needed work.

I am a little tired of the foreclosure notices in the newspapers; I am a little tired of seeing many of our neighbors without jobs; I am a little tired of racial profiling; I am a little tired of our students being bullied, under-educated, and over-indebted; I am a little tired of congressional bills that promote incarceration as in three strikes rather then rehabilitation; I am a little tired of seeing the world’s greediest financiers get away with reaping extreme profits off the poor.

In short, I am tired of dealing with so-called leaders who have been all too quick to talk out of one side of their mouths about celebrating Dr. King’s legacy, while doing all they can out of the other side of their mouths to block his dream from becoming reality.

Just because we are tired, don’t let anyone think we have grown weary in well-doing. We are on fire for justice.

On MLK’s birthday, Occupy Wall Street honored Dr. King’s legacy of social engagement and making sure it continues. What is the link, since OWS has largely focused on economic inequality? While Dr. King is best known for his efforts to curb racism, his social justice efforts were actually far more extensive. Everyone is familiar with the “I have a Dream” speech, but most people aren’t aware of how much he embodied an anti-war and anti-poverty stance, as well as an anti-racism stance. Young people are in a mood of rebellion, dissatisfaction, and are seeking change, and the instrument they are using to play out this scenario is non-violence.

Dr. King even offered a terse analysis that crystallizes much of the OWS message: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Dr. King’s dream was about building a society based on simple justice that values the dignity and the worth of every human being. If he were alive today, his message would still be essentially the same.

We have become so mellow to personal, political, and cultural issues and tolerant of the world’s ways, that injustice is allowed without any anger being expressed. I am reminded by an ad in the newspaper that said “Wedding dress for sale — never worn — will trade for .38 caliber pistol.”

We are blessed tonight to hear a conversation on civil rights with lifelong activists, in their own words – Lucy Hackney, Elizabeth Rawlins and Rose Styron.

When you think of DuBois, King, Parks, Belafonte — we know the names of these heroes and many others by heart — their legacies are synonymous with our centuries-long struggle for civil rights and social justice. But, while we laud the achievements of these inspiring historical figures, recognition, acclaim, and fanfare too often elude those within our community whose names aren’t quite so familiar, but whose impact is just as vital. We are blessed to have people who go above and beyond what is asked of them in our community, and it is an honor to recognize them for the important work they do to make tomorrow a little brighter. We have that, not only in our guest speakers, but in Karen Achille, Armen Hanjian, and Connie Texiera.

Let us, in this moment, rededicate ourselves to continuing to defeat the deeds of those who would defy the dreamer, but desecrate the dream.

Let us, in this moment, recommit to winning the nonviolent war on poverty Dr. King was waging when he was assassinated.

Laurie Perry-Henry is the president of the Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the NAACP. This essay has been adapted from remarks she delivered Saturday, at the chapter’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. dinner.