Growing up in metro Atlanta meant being aware of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday at an early age. The state of Georgia observed the first MLK federal holiday in January 1986. As a 5th grader, I was stoked to receive a new, additional day off school so soon after the winter break.
I grew up in Stone Mountain, in the shadow of a large granite mountain with a monument to the Confederacy. Still, our community was a racially diverse community where people respected one another and more often than not, worked together for the common good. Then, my family became part of the “white flight” of the 1980s in Atlanta, the migration of middle-class white populations to farther out suburbs. I’m not sure our schools going from mandated racial segregation to chosen racial segregation could be considered real progress.
As a pastor and a person of faith, I’ve worked to reconcile my own complicity in my life in the racial injustice that exists in our nation. I believe deeply in the work of Dr. King while knowing that I am a still a work in progress when it comes to living as God calls us to live. I know our society is a great work in progress when it comes to items such as racial and economic justice. The path is made steeper by those in power who believe we’ve already made too much progress and attempt to back that progress down. Lately, it feels like one step forward is met with resistance that is determined to take us two steps back, doing immeasurable damage to people’s lives in the process.
The King holiday is an occasion for all to post their favorite King quotes so I will share one that has been working on me lately;
“White Americans must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of a change of the status quo.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
We have too often diminished King’s ability for prophetic witness, especially in the white community. His words are not safe to those in power and to those who have privilege. His words are prophetic and call me to check my own privilege. When King talks about the comfortable, the entrenched, and the privileged, he is talking about me and could well be talking about you. As forward-thinking and open as I believe I might be, when he speaks of those who tremble at the prospect of change, he may well be talking about me. After all, I come at it from a place of comfort and privilege.
The status quo must change. Today, I check my own comfort and privilege, asking what changes I need to make and what systems I need to challenge so that all know the fullness of life. That seems an appropriate way to remember Dr. King on this day.