Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King, Junior Day

"There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it. The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty … The well off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for 'the least of these." -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior

Good morning, it's Sheila.
Today is Martin Luther King, Junior Day, and there may have never been a time when his words about poverty are more true than they are today. I was watching an interview with Congressman John Lewis last fall after the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth died. Of course, Rev. Shuttlesworth marched alongside Dr. King during America's civil rights movement. Rep. Lewis told his interviewer that he believes many have forgotten Dr. King's commitment to ending poverty in America, so today I think it bears repeating as we commemorate those principles for which Dr. King stood.

Millions of Americans will pray today, and many will march, and they will celebrate people who carry on Dr. King's legacy. How many of them will help the poor at a time when so many in our great country need help? I know that Jenny Laster will. I interviewed Jenny last year on MLK Day. Jenny is the director of the African-American Leadership program at the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, and she witnessed Dr. King's work as a child growing up near St. Louis in the 40's and 50's. At the age of 70, Jenny decided to pursue her Ph.D. in the MLK program at the Union Institute and University here in Cincinnati because she wanted to inspire others to make Dr. King's vision a reality. When I interviewed Jenny, I asked her how she would commemorate the holiday, and she told me she would help the poor. Jenny told me she often goes through her home and cleans out what she doesn't need, and she donates the clothing and household items to the poor -- she pointedly said she never sells any of it. That stayed with me. Now, every time I take some work clothes to Dress for Success or give kids items to the
Madonna House or the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, I think of Jenny, and I think of Dr. King. It seems rather a small thing, but it's one way of taking care of another person in need.

In the early 90's, I was able to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center and the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Being in those places was very meaningful for me, and as I left I picked up a small card which I carry in my wallet. The card carries this Living The Dream Pledge: "In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and work, I pledge to do everything that I can to make the world a place where equality and justice, freedom and peace will grow and flourish. On the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday, I commit myself to living the dream by:
Loving, not hating
Showing understanding, not anger
Making peace, not war.

Today's public commemoration in Cincinnati is themed Be the Change - Live the Freedom. Let's face it. Our world still needs change. The challenges of violence and poverty still resonate, and people still suffer. But each and every one of us can make the conscious decision that we will be the change - even if it's in the seemingly small offerings of clothing for the poor, or a shoulder when someone needs it to lean on, stopping bullying, or mentoring a child. We all have different reasons for honoring Dr. King - I like to think that he will best be remembered if we take some action and show concern for "the least of these."

Here's a link, if you'd like to take part in today's events Downtown.

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