January 19, 2008
Speech I gave at the Cal State East Bay MLK Breakfast:
So I was asked to say something about Dr. King today.
I had a lot to say.
Should I talk about his dream?
Should I talk about his personal demons?
Or maybe non-violence?
How about the Letter from Birmingham Jail?
I decided I want to talk about for what and for whom King stood for.
And no, it was not about a dream.
See, people like Hillary Clinton go around saying we should no longer talk about race and gender during a political campaign because Dr. King’s dream has been realized.
That’s what they tell school children. But we know better.
So King had those famous words for us…
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
And yet it’s 2007 and people are still being judged by their skin tone. So what are we supposed to make of that?
Don’t believe the hype.
We’ve got a long road to travel together yet.
We better start on that road somewhere………
So let’s start here:
King said a man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.
Think about that statement for a moment—
And tell me if you think that applies to any of the presidential candidates today.
Correctly, it was and is people like King who make things happen.
Not politicians and certainly not presidents.
Ask yourself, is there something you believe in that is worth dying for?
I ask today that you commit yourself to that cause and you do the work to defend it and demand it.
We must also remember that King is only a symbol of a much larger movement for civil rights—that included so many people—people not unlike you and I.
He knew how to put words together to inspire others—and so he became a spokesman.
However, he was never a leader and would probably reject that term.
He followed others and most closely, he followed the moral force in his heart:
King said that like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.
He believed that in order for man to evolve, when people conflict we must reject a method of revenge, aggression and retaliation.
Furthermore, he said the foundation of a good method to solve human conflicts is love.
In addition, Dr. King believed that he who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.
Moreover, he said that our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.
We must challenge ourselves to stand up and do something about injustice we witness.
We must start today here on campus and in the community beyond.
I’m tired of hearing excuses.
There is no time for that nonsense now.
It is necessary that you take responsibility for yourself and your brothers and sisters.
Not that I am trying to pressure you. You are a student and all with a million things on your mind.
Dr. King was a student just like us.
He learned from many people such as Gandhi, Rustin, and Douglass.
He took from Douglass words you need to hear:
"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."
"This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others."
Dr. King not only believed these words. He lived these words. He was willing to sacrifice himself. And he did.
Dr. King also said that human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
People like you and I make it happen. We are the change agents of the world.
And I urge you to remember that King was also against war and poverty. He was a democratic socialist who asks us to "question the capitalistic economy."
It would probably not shock King that our president today thinks that when you talk about war you are talking about peace.
Do not be fooled. We have not come so far as to realize a revolution of any kind. And we have a far way to go yet.
Remember King’s words:
Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin; we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
How relevant those words are today. In the richest nation in the world, the rich grow increasingly richer, the poor, increasingly poorer—as wealth concentrates into the hands of the very privileged few. And where do our tax dollars go? Into the hands of CEO’s, stockholders, wealthy people, the prison industry and war industry. Not to those in any real need—like starving students.
Even me, the optimist I am, I admit the situation does look desperate and bleak.
My friends, we hold the fate of the world in our hands.
That is what Dr. King wanted us to know when it all came down to it.
Don’t waste your opportunity to do the right thing!
Take in some sobering words from the man himself:
I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. ... When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.
Let us take up his cause of love.
Let us make real what he believed in through waging peace and ending poverty.
Let us seek our own bit of justice in this world by grasping hold of something we are willing to sacrifice for.
Together, we will struggle on and we will overcome someday yet.