Today marks the day we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
As I sat down to write this post, I told myself I wasn’t going to cite any inspirational words that the slain civil rights leader said while he was alive. Forty-seven years have passed since King’s assassination. Yet America’s social institutions and cultural attitudes are still structured such that many of us enjoy privileges we did not earn that black-skinned people, brown-skinned people, women, and pretty much every minority you can think of do not.
Because of this fact, I feel like my calling attention to something uplifting King once said would white-wash all of the injustices that have been inflicted upon black people since King helped start the civil rights movement.
And I’m thinking of everything that has happened in the United States in recent years that tells me just how deeply divided its people still are. I’m thinking of Michael Brown and Ferguson. I’m thinking of Eric Garner and the NYPD. I’m thinking of Rumain Brisbon. I’m thinking of Tamir Rice. I’m thinking of Trayvon Martin. I’m thinking of all of the black lives that should have counted as much as mine but did not, those stories that made the news and, just as importantly, those that did not.
I wasn’t going to quote King. But he said these words during the Montgomery Bus boycotts in 1958:
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.”
Some fifty years since King uttered those words, they rip through me. They haunt me. Because the black boys and men I have mentioned did not get justice. They’re families and friends did not get justice.
I do not think that no progress has been made since the civil rights movement began. Nor do I think that King’s inspirational words carry no weight. We should be awed by the power of his words to uplift, to encourage, to motivate. But I think that, every day and especially today, we need to stop and listen to the stories that King, civil rights leaders, and the black community have been telling us. And that story is that black lives matter. That story is, no justice, no peace.