adapted from an essay by Avi West
The majestic stone image of Dr. King looks out over the Tidal Basin with great resolve. What backs up that resolve, and has remained a part of his legacy, are his words from numerous public speeches and letters. Fourteen key quotes are etched into the stone wall encircling the statue. I would recommend that one visit this memorial NOT as a tourist, snapping a picture with a statue; one should visit as in a pilgrimage, reacquainting oneself with the words that created statutes and reshaped society. Below are a few quotes from Dr. King’s speeches. When you visit, dialogue with them and reflect on how you can transform them from words (dibburim) to concrete things (devarim) in your life and your community’s culture.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Having just celebrated Hanukkah, the holiday of light/dedication/education, what New Year’s resolution can you make to increase your power of light? What learning can you do to reinforce your dedication to help banish darkness (ignorance and intolerance) and hate?
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” The pursuit of justice makes a society whole. How may justice “tzedek” be your framing of situations of tension, such as hunger, homelessness, the educational system, inequities in the court system, etc. in order to help resolve them? How can you educate yourself on these issues before the next election and research organizations that support this mission?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We teach that “All Israel is mutually responsible for one another” (Babylonian Talmud, Shavuot 39a). How will you demonstrate that imperative in 2020? Remember Hillel’s saying “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? BUT if I am for myself alone, what am I?” How will you help your Jewish community while also being a model citizen of the broader community and world?
“I have a dream…” A life of meaning needs a vision. What is the society of your dreams, and how can you leave that legacy to your children? Look up the words of your bar/bat mitzvah haftarah reading. It probably came from the speeches of the Hebrew prophets like Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, Ezekiel. What did they have to say about equity and justice? How can you talk the talk of the prophets by walking the walk volunteering?
I have a dream; in it, sticks and stones are used to build safe communities where words of truth and justice shape our future. We are the inheritors of the words of Abraham our Ancestor, Moses our Teacher, and Hillel the Sage. We are also the inheritors of the words of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thomas Jefferson. One way to show gratitude for living in a country where we are free to say “these and those are the words of the EverPresent” is to study them and make them words to live by.
Fight Racism and Discrimination in your community.
What is racism? According to the ADL (Anti-Defamation League): “Racism is the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics.” The best tools for fighting racism are 1) education and 2) social interactions. Fear of “the other” can lead to stereotyping and misconceptions. Meet people from outside your usual social group. You’ll be glad you did.
Some organizations that fight racism:
ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union
ADL – Anti Defamation League
OUDC – Operation Understanding DC