Heeding Dr. King’s Warning

Dr. King delivers famous I Have A Dream speech to nearly 300,000 people in Washington, D.C
Dr. King delivers famous I Have A Dream speech to nearly 300,000 people in Washington, D.C

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated yesterday (Jan 20) across the United States, in Canada and around the world.  This is done each year on the third Monday of January.

The day had me thinking about Dr. King’s vision so eloquently articulated in his famous  “I Have A Dream” speech. King envisioned a time when each of us would be judged not by our colour (or ethnicity, or gender, or physical abilities, or whatever dimension of diversity) but by “the content of our character.”

But he also issued a warning: “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

I have tried to heed that warning, issued in 1963, through my personal and professional life. But there are times when I am tested.

After watching the film 12 Years a Slave I walked out of the theatre filled with pain, hatred and bitterness. That’s why I don’t like watching films about slavery; they tap into the generational pain I am sure many black people share about the historical reality of slavery and today’s aftermath of that institution.

I felt I had to share my thoughts with others — a way of casting off the poison — so I posted a comment on my personal Facebook. I was surprised at the reaction from my FB Friends.

Many of them felt the same way I did about watching such films and had decided not to see 12 Years a Slave. Others made the argument that it’s important for everyone — regardless of race — to see these films, to remind us of the depravity of the institution of slavery.

In the end some of my FB Friends decided to see the film after all; one of them commented that it felt like being “hit by a truck” but he was glad he saw it. Another person saw the film and wanted to post a comment but struggled with what to say. I suppose he is struggling still.

ChiwetelThe story about Solomon Northup — so powerfully portrayed by British actor Chiwetel Ejifor – is about survival and celebration of the human spirit. It is also a story about how not be dragged down into the pit of vengeance and bitterness when every fibre of your being screams otherwise.

In so many ways Northup’s response to his treatment illustrates Dr. King’s warning about not seeking to “satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

It is a hard road to travel and a difficult promise keep. But one I continue to strive for and hope for others.

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