50 years after MLK Jr.'s death we are reminded of the power of nonviolent protest. But also reminded that the struggles continued and the efforts for justice must not stop.
I was 18 years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. I was a student at the University of Texas, and not really settled in there yet. The day after he was killed, I rode a bus from Austin to New Orleans where my father picked me up. The bus trip was quiet. I rode near the back. As one would say in those days, the people of color in the back of the bus were shocked, sad and I believe scared. It was a solemn trip.
My parents had honeymooned in New Orleans so my dad wanted to show me some of the sites and take me to eat at the Court of the Three Sisters where they had had a meal they still talked about. It was a dark rather dingy restaurant and though I never told my dad, I didn't care for the food. He had taken a job in Houma, Louisiana and we spent Saturday at his place just visiting. Then early Palm Sunday morning we went back to New Orleans, visited Jackson Square, walked into a cathedral between services and picked up the palm branches left in the pew before we walked around the park. It was a quiet peaceful spring morning. Later that day, the square was filled with mourners and remembrances about the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr., which broke out into a riot with tanks seen amid the crowds, that we totally missed by a few hours.
My dad took me to the train station and I rode the train back to Texas. On the train, the only people of color were the train attendants who visited the cars checking on the passengers. There was no visible mourning on that trip back, only the silent faces of the attendants showing absolutely no emotion. Not like the bus trip days earlier.
MLK was in Memphis to speak up and out for the sanitation workers, for a living wage, to better their lives.
Struggles like that should be long passed. But this week, teachers here in Oklahoma stood up and made a stand not just for living wages but for their students and for their schools long left out of the state's shrinking budgets. Years of cuts.
I retired after working in the Miami Public Schools for 25 years. Everyone knew the moment you made it known you were retiring, there would be endless numbers of teachers visiting you, looking over your shelves, books, chairs and making it known which they would like once you closed the door the last time. That is how I got everything I ever had in my office. Used tables, used desk and chairs. The school district furnished the computer and upgraded through the years, but that really was the only equipment that came out of the box in my career.
I am proud of the teachers and the superintendents across this state who see the power of people on their feet in the space of the people with the power to make schools better.
People on the street corners speaking up, standing up, believing in the value of the individual teacher who stands alone in that classroom making lives of our children better every day. 50 years after MLK Jr.'s death we are reminded of the power of nonviolent protest. But also reminded that the struggles continued and the efforts for justice must not stop.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.
We aren't engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.
We don't need any bricks and bottles, we don't need any Molotov cocktails. We've got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. We've got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.
In the room where I grew up, hung a painting of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. that a friend of my brother had painted.
The last time I saw his friend, he had come over to change the painting. He painted a single spot on the forehead of the image. He didn't say anything. But it came to be true just months later.
Sometimes we know the future. The artist knew and Martin Luther King, Jr. knew it, too and stated it in his famous last speech. I may not get there with you... I've seen the promised land...
We can see a better future for our children and our state by the greater determination shown by their teachers and supported by all of us.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim
Rebecca Jim is the executive director of the LEAD Agency (www.leadagency.org).