Honoring Dr. King

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Michelle Phillips

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we honor King, and likely hindered the normal amount of volunteer hours people put in on Monday. Often the remembrance of his birthday, which was actually Jan. 15, is marked by volunteering within the community. 

Volunteerism is something that was important to King, and also something that was instilled in me early on. Helping others is something that anyone can do, and often only involves your time.

I was surprised to learn from a recent Middleton survey that volunteerism is low. Maybe it’s partly due to the pandemic because people are less inclined to leave their homes, or maybe people don’t know how to connect with volunteer organizations. 

I ask, in the spirit of Dr. King, that you consider volunteering in your community. There are many options from tutoring to Meals on Wheels and everything in between.  Even if you only devote a few hours a week, you will undoubtedly make an impact on someone else’s life. 

As for events marking MLK Day, some were cancelled altogether, and others were held virtually. Although it was not the same there were also celebrations presented on TV, some recorded from previous years, to recognize the peaceful reverend who gave his life in a fight for equality and equity in this country. Something that many of us take for granted today.

In October of 2019, I found myself in Memphis again, but realized I had never been to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel, where King was assassinated on April 4. 1968. 

My friend, Wendy, and I headed out to the museum, which was overflowing with people, the entrance through the heavy black door spaced out. We walked through exhibits of dog attacks, lynchings and a bus that been bombed, representing the firebombing of a bus Freedom Riders took through the south. We saw copies of the Green Book, stories about prominent Black people and artifacts spanning nearly 200 years, though primarily focused on the Civil Rights Movement. 

It was overwhelming, many people of all races were in tears, Wendy and I included. I can’t describe how it feels to stand in the middle of history that was created through the evil acts by your own race against another. It is sobering, horrific and worst of all tragic. Honestly, there are not enough words to describe the gamut of emotions I felt. The tour ends in the hall of the hotel where King was killed, the rooms ensconced in plexiglass, teacups on the table as if they are waiting for the inhabitant of the room to come sip from them. 

The energy of the space felt like sadness. It felt like a place where hope had died, then been placed on display for all to mourn. But it also felt like a space at which hope was born. Looking into the faces of the people surrounding me, I could feel and see hope behind the sadness.

Over the past year, white America has been forced to look once again at its past, through the present. 

The death of George Floyd in May seemed to be yet another chance for a wake up call. A chance at forming equity for all people, a chance to face our demons and try to heal from the wounds slavery, prejudice and oppression made so long ago and that continue to fester.

I want us to continue to keep this and the many other senseless deaths of unarmed, Black men and women at the forefront of our thoughts and actions. I want us to have hard conversations and make difficult decisions to improve the lives of people of color, alongside their white brothers and sisters. We simply can no longer accept this way of life as the “norm.”

King wanted to achieve change through peace and fought racism through peaceful protest. Let us emulate that conviction and honor him in our day to day lives. 

Of course, it will take time, planning and much reform to change our world, and at times it may seem hopeless, but I will leave you this week with one of my favorite quotes by Dr. King: "We must accept infinite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."


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