On this day, we celebrate an American hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Martin Luther King Jr. was a father, a husband, a brother, a pastor, and an active member of his community. When we think of the word community, we most likely think of the people in our immediate surroundings. Our friends, our family, our school, our workplace. Throughout Dr. King’s life, we see a ripple effect of his valiant efforts inspiring people in his local area and cascading out into other pockets of the world, to stand up against injustice, in his time and up until this day.
As I grew up, we would always watch documentaries in elementary school about Martin Luther King Jr. or spend a day learning about him. I always knew he was important, and that what he did was incredible, but it never cut so deeply as within recent years. The bravery and courage it took to put his life at risk for something he believed so strongly in. He was harassed, arrested, and beaten, and a target was placed on his family’s back as well. Even still, he persevered because he knew true love and righteousness, and once he knew that, he couldn’t turn back. In light of the racially motivated hate crime at Tops in Buffalo, I’ve come to see that true hatred is still alive and well. I felt so hopeless and scared. Dr. King’s words come to mind, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" In watching the way the city mobilized and supported each other with such radical love, I felt such a sense of community. We were once again confronted with the very real problem of racist extremism in our country on such a large scale that it couldn’t be ignored. The neighborhood with one of the largest, densely packed black populations in Western New York was purposely attacked, and people were murdered right in their neighborhood grocery store. Our community was harmed in such an unspeakable way, and out of the woodwork came thousands in our local community and much much more from our global community. As we continue to mourn the lives lost still years later, we must remember that "unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant." We took that hatred and evil directed at us and turned it into love, and we are stronger than ever now.
Another reason why Dr. King has resonated with me is the way his words align with restorative practices. In restorative practices, we talk about repairing harm. Rather than the punitive model of doling out punishment, restorative practices instead seek to bring those who have caused harm and those who have been harmed together in understanding and healing. In his words, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” Restorative practices are love in action. This method he speaks of is building relationships, and reconciling harm. Dr. King’s words ring true to this day, and we try to reflect that sentiment in everything we do.
This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, honor his sense of justice and unwavering radical love by reflecting on the impact you can have in your community. It could be both your immediate community and your community as a global citizen. He says, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle." Strong communities don’t just happen overnight, it is the choices of people within them that draw people closer. Fight for your right to love.