Monday, January 19, 2004

Still Approaching Spiritual Death

Many comparisons have been made between Vietnam and Iraq. The situation in our country today, seems fulfilment of the promise in this prescient quote of Dr. King's, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on Military Defense than on programs of social uplift is "approaching spiritual Death".

In the '60s, I was, for the most part blissfully ignorant of racial prejudice and injustice and only marginally aware of the civil rights movement. I was a white kid living in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota and took a bus to my Catholic grade school in another suburb, Robbinsdale.

My best school chum, Agnes, was black and she also took the bus from her home in another suburb, Brooklyn Center. I suppose at some level, I was cognizant that we were of different races but I guess I attributed the fact that she was my only black friend to a paucity of black people (which was true in our suburban neighborhoods and our parochial school).

We were just kids and neither of us were particularly precocious or even mildly interested in the politics of the day, though I recall her parents were always attending civil rights meetings and rallies. I have a vague memory of hearing about the race riots in Minneapolis and the "burning" of Plymouth Avenue though I can't tell you if it was the summer following Dr. King's assassination in '68 or if it had been in '69.

It all seemed so distant to a kid without a driver's license, who never went to the city. In '69, along with my friend Aggie, I joined the group Up with People. It was only then I came to realize that Minneapolis had a very large minority population, to which I had just never been exposed.

However, it wasn't until as an adult, raising my own children within the city, in the public school system, and chauffeuring them to basketball games at the various inner city high schools, that I realized how physically close these socially-isolated places had been.

Agnes and I went to different parochial high schools and drifted apart. My children grew up with much more diversity and are richer for the experience. We moved to Idaho when our youngest was a high school freshmen and the middle child a junior. They were amazed and appalled at the intolerance they witnessed in their new high school. My daughter had the courage to speak out on her basketball team; I was one proud parent.

Reverend King said, "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people." His widow, Coretta Scott King, stated "I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice" (1998, according to Reuters news service). "But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people." In honor of Dr. King, pledge to never be silent.


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