We are in a moment. How we respond in this moment as a collective being will determine our path forward, our children’s destiny and time beyond.
Today, we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta. Every year I bear witness to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech with my students and my family. Every time I hear Dr. King’s spiritual cadence and listen to him share his vision for humankind, I am filled with hope. Without fail, my students attach themselves to Dr. King’s imagery and are elevated by his call, revealing the best of themselves in their reflections.
This year, in this moment, I was struck by the candor of our eighth graders who revealed both their affirmation that we have taken steps forward in many ways since that sweltering day in August 57 years ago along with their honest disappointment that we have taken steps backward in many ways, as well. These are our children. We cannot and will not allow despair to creep into their gaze. We must do everything in our power to inspire hope in their hearts. If ever there was a generation on this Earth with the potential to advance humankind in this moment, through this season on a path to peace, it is today’s youth.
When I watched and listened to Dr. King share his dream from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capital, it was the moment itself that struck me most. Quite simply, the peaceful, non-violent March on Washington which culminated with a hopeful dream for the beloved community contrasted with last week’s violent and seditious desecration of the Capitol which has caused terror and tragic loss of life, stunned me with an ultimately basic dialectic: The path of nonviolence versus the path of violence. Basic… Fundamental… What we teach our children from their naissance.
With unshakable images of violence and discord seared into my brain from January 6, 2021, I was transcendentally moved by the spirit of nonviolence and unity that made the moment on August 28, 1963, so hopeful… So full of promise. Yet, here we are.
It is imperative that we look to the legacy of Dr. King who speaks to generations when he says, “We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself.” We are in a moment.
In a recent essay shared by the OnBeing Project, John Paul Lederach, senior fellow at Humanity United and professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, summons Dr. King’s call to us all to “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” Lederach writes, “In the midst of the temporal tension playing out between the fierce now and the long arc, Dr. King’s vision never wavered in the third pillar: the commitment to nonviolence and appreciation for our ultimate interdependence. Over and again, his imagination captured the understanding that while the past carries forward profound violation of dignity and the present continues to humiliate and divide, our future is shared. Calling this out in his I Have a Dream speech, he noted that across racial divides ‘their freedom is inextricably bound with our freedom’ followed by the shortest single sentence in the speech: We cannot walk alone.”
We cannot walk alone.
In the newly published 2020 version of the Sacred Heart Goals and Criteria, Goal IV, Criterion 5 states that “members of the school community practice and teach with a spirit of peace and reconciliation the principles of nonviolence and conflict management.” We must condemn, not condone, violence. What we permit, we promote.
As Lederach writes, “we must respect the dignity of others.” We must not allow derision or division to push us back as we try so hard to move forward. We are in a moment. How we respond will determine our children’s future. We cannot walk alone.
In the immortal words of Dr. King, “World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point.” Let us begin, then, with ourselves and with our children as agents of peace and ambassadors of hope so that we may realize the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in this lifetime.