Each year I look forward to commemorating and honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy on MLK day. There have been many leaders before him who have used civil disobedience to point out the unjust practices perpetuated not only by ill-intentioned people, but also by the bystander behavior of good intended people – and yet there is something so precious and timeless about Dr. King’s love and critique of our country. When I worked at The University of Texas at Austin, we called MLK Day, “a day on, not a day off.” We had programs, speakers, dialogue… much like any college campus, and much like our outstanding program at Rollins. Action that reflects our commitment, in this case, to a just society, is a meaningful practice.
This past summer, I traveled to India for work. Saaya (my daughter) was very distraught. She doesn’t like it when I travel, and so I found myself consoling my teary eyed 6 year old, who didn’t understand why I had to leave. A day before my trip, I came home from work, and she overwhelmed me with questions. She asked me, “Mamma- are you going to India to find us a new place to live?” I was really confused by the question, so I asked her why she was asking me that… “Well, are you finding us a new place to live, you know, because we are not white and we are not Black? Are we supposed to live in India because we do not belong here?”
I could not figure out where she was getting all of this – until my mother showed me the book, a children’s biography of Dr. King, that Saaya picked up and read earlier that day. She began to tell me all about how he went to jail trying to protect people, and that he was shot (her words). I was amazed. In our home we talk about topics openly – but I am amazed at her curiosity and emotional investment in the racial justice conversation. While I was not prepared to have that level of dialogue that day – I stayed in it with her, answering her questions, and being in the moment with her as she processed.
And I love that she had an emotional investment in the racial justice conversation. Which takes me back to our commitment. We honor MLK day, but I wonder how we show our investment in his message? When I think of Eric Garner’s family, Michael Brown’s family, Tamir Rice’s family… and this list is already one person too long… I ask myself… have I done enough to show my investment in the racial justice conversation (or any other justice conversation)? I applaud the organized events on campus. I also applaud the students who organized awareness protests on campus. How do we uplift the protests and anger, and recognize without judgment, that these are reminders to us of systemic and generational pain that has impacted, in this case, communities of color, in a way that situates their communities as less than whole? I used to be scared by the unrest. That fear, was my own discomfort. I am now grateful to be reminded of my own duty to equity, access, and justice – and the national activism is that reminder for me when I may at times get complacent in my own ‘good-intended-person’ place.
I know I am not a racist. I am confident that I do not do racist things. But, in what ways have I actively worked to do ANTI-racist things? I know what I have not done… but is the act of ‘not-doing-bad-things’ enough? Is ‘not-doing’ the same as ‘un-doing’? So then what would anti-racist work look like?I have some ideas about that, and I consider myself an educator, so I plan to re-invest myself with greater depth, as an educator in the racial justice conversation. I have work to do. The work that happens beyond the reflections, the quotes, the music, the interfaith prayers. The emotional work. The messy work. I propose #beyondMLKDay. I start with me. Join me on Tuesday, Feb. 3, in the Bieberbach Reid Room at 6pm. Let’s re-invest in the racial justice conversation, so we can re-invest in one another’s humanity.