On Wednesday, April 4, 2018, many groups throughout the United States of America commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the second time in three months. For many, this activity will be the final substantive mention of a significant life in the history of our country until January 2019. Every January, we commemorate Dr. King's life on his birthday; on April 4 of each year, we commemorate Dr. King's life on his "death day."
This year is significant because it marks the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Recollecting the assassination of Dr. King should cause great pause in our country at this particular moment for two reasons, which represent two of the most trending, but controversial, topics of the day: the BULLET and SYSTEMIC RACISM. The bullet has proved to be the tool of choice used by cowards throughout history to extinguish the lives of blacks who have had the audacity to confront racism. Today, 50 years after Dr. King's death, the bullet continues to cause great unrest throughout the country; if we seize the moment, groups who may have perceived that they have little in common may realize they share much more than they ever thought.
I often find myself confronting racism on many different levels, and I pretty much know who can be depended on to stand beside me on racial issues. But I noticed something this weekend as I marched in solidarity with March for Our Lives-marches sparked by gun violence across our nation, the most recent being the shooting in Parkland. As we marched in St. Augustine, mirroring massive rallies all across the land, I noticed that the same people who stood in opposition to our rallies against racism were also standing in opposition to the participants in St. Augustine's March for Our Lives.
The marchers were shocked that people waving Confederate flags and yelling obscenities were actually verbally attacking their peaceful demonstration. I literally saw an NRA sign that read "Don't Tread on Me." Anyone engaged in the racial fight knows those words are a popular slogan used by white supremacists and other hate groups. I could tell that many of the participants were confused by the hostilities directed at them by their "own kind," but I personally recognized many of the faces and all of the degrading language. They were the same people I am confronted by as I oppose systemic racism.
Imagine this ... what if, in addition to commemorating Dr. King's life on April 4, all the targets of the hate perpetrated by white supremacist, confederate sympathizing, homophobic, xenophobic, evangelical, racist, guns over lives, Americans realized that we are all targets located on different areas of the same dart board? What if we made an intentional effort to continue the work and legacy of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
I imagine the bullet was meant to stop the work. I imagine systemic racism is meant to thwart progress. But Dr. King would be elated to know that the diverse groups on the dartboard WOKE UP and banded together for the purpose of CONTINUATION.
Every day, I see and hear from people who claim to love and embrace the work of Dr. King, but I've observed they embrace it solely from a historical perspective. Their present-day track record and decisions say very little about their concern for the present-day struggles. I attend commemoration events that will not even mention present-day struggles and racial tensions in our nation, for fear of possibly offending an invited guest or elected official.
I issue a moral challenge to any group or person who claims to embrace the work and legacy of Dr. King to hold a mirror up to their current involvement and determine if they're merely masters of COMMEMORATION, or do they also possess the moral consciousness to show present-day receipts (evidence) of works of CONTINUATION?
Rev. Rawls ministers at St. Paul AME Church in St. Augustine.