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Day 6: The Moment We Were Transformed

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Today is Day 6 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today, reflect upon the 50th anniversary of the 24th Amendment and the implications for democracy in this country. Think about the many ways in which voting rights are being denied today. How can you be part of making sure everyone has the right to vote? Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.

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We’ve all heard people say, “It was a transformational experience.” Maybe you’ve said it yourself. The question that we like to ask ourselves when we feel that way is “What I have been transformed to do?” In 2008, our lives were changed – we were transformed – when we decided to go on a Civil Rights Tour led by the Rev. Dr. Gordon Gibson and his wife Judy. This tour was a partnership with Meadville-Lombard Theological School in Chicago, so we stepped on the bus in Chicago and drove south to Memphis and then on through Mississippi and Alabama. This was not like any other trip we’d been on. It was not a tour in any sense of the word. Sure, we visited museums and historical sites – and were moved by what we saw there. But that’s not where the transformation happened. It happened as we met person after person who had put their lives on the line to secure the right to vote for all.

We were transformed by Hollis Watkins, a county organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi who during one of his many arrests was shown a noose and told he would be hung that night. We were transformed by Joanne Bland, who joined the Movement at eleven years old and was chased by police on horses off the Edmund Pettus Bridge on what’s come to be known as Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. We were transformed by Angela Lewis, the daughter of slain civil rights worker, James Chaney, who holds love, not bitterness, in her heart for his killers.

Before we even returned to Chicago, we approached Gordon and Judy, who themselves chose a ministry in Mississippi in the 1960s to live out their commitment to justice and equity. “How could we help,” we asked them, “to keep this experience alive?” Out of that question, that moment when being transformed meant we had to act, the Living Legacy Project was born. Since that time, hundreds of people, UUs and people of all faiths, have participated in the Living Legacy Pilgrimage and other experiential learning opportunities (including an upcoming partnership with the UU College of Social Justice for a multigenerational journey to Mississippi this summer), which are designed to deepen understanding of the Civil Rights Movement by visiting the sites where it happened and talking with the people who lived it.

Today, we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the 24th Amendment, which prohibits both Congress and the states from requiring people to pay a poll tax or any other type of tax to vote in federal elections. At the same time, we also recognize that we are facing the most severe threats to voting rights we have seen since the 24th Amendment was ratified.

What will you do to assure that the people who worked tirelessly, who gave up their freedom, and in some cases, their lives to secure the right to vote, did not do so in vain? What actions will you take in your state to resist the voter suppression laws that are making it harder and harder for people to vote? What has your faith transformed you to do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

(from left to right)

The Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau in Garden City, NY

Dr. Janice Marie Johnson is the Multicultural Ministries and Leadership Director for the UUA

Annette Marquis is the LGBTQ and Multicultural Programs Director for the UUA

 

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Day 5: Leaning Into the Dream Every Day

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Today is Day 5 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to take your next step toward building multicultural community. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.

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This week, thousands of us participating in the 30 Days of Love campaign will be especially mindful of the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

His is a heritage of faith and hope, laughter and tears—that can only be moved from dream to reality by our actions. Each day that we lean into Dr. King’s vision of a multicultural America, we move one step closer to making his Dream come true. I see glimpses of the Dream in action nearly every day: a new grocery store opens in a needy neighborhood, a tall dark-skinned young man is the lifeguard (not the custodian) at the YWCA where I swim laps, I smile as white couple plays “pass the baby” with their beautiful Ethiopian daughter during a church potluck supper.

Yes, I see glimpses of the Dream, but that is not enough. I want to live the Dream every day.

Wanting to live that Dream is a fundamental piece of my call into Unitarian Universalist ministry; and as the Resident Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I am blessed to be part of an intentional multicultural congregation that is deeply involved in taking steps to make the Dream come true.

Our intentionality manifests itself both inside and outside of our community. Internally, it shows up in the music played and the songs we sing together, in the readings chosen for Sunday worship services and the poetry given voice at our weekly Wednesday night chapel. Externally, I see it at events like the conference All Souls hosted last November. The UUA’s Mosaic Makers: Leading Vital Multicultural Congregations Conference was attended by more than 120 people from twenty UU congregations engaged in intentional multicultural ministry. As I shared in my feedback to the conference organizers, the conference was a place of passionate people, engaged deeply in the work of learning how to embrace and create true multicultural welcome.

There is joy and beauty, pain and anxiety, when we take part in this kind of transformative ministry. When we lean into the action required to make Dr. King’s Dream a reality, we come up against the blessings and challenges of working in and for a diverse community. Yet we remain committed to something far greater than ourselves. All Souls’ Centennial Vision opens with this line: “Our church is an embodiment and celebration of the world as we hope it will one day become.”

That is a big vision, let me tell you. But the good news I want to share is that intentional multicultural community starts small and can be evoked by anyone, whether or not you belong to a congregation. One small step All Souls took was to start hosting potluck dinners where attendees bring food from their families or backgrounds and then talk about the significance of the dish they brought. This combination of sharing food and talking story deepens relationships and builds community.

Today, let’s commit ourselves to taking whatever small or large step we must, to make the Dream into reality.  In a 1957 sermon, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

My questions are these:

  • What did you do for others today?
  • What will you do for others tomorrow or the next day?
  • How are you leaning into the Dream?

During these 30 Days of Love, how will you help create the world as you want it to become?

Love & Blessings,

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

 
Carol Thomas Cissel
Resident Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma

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Day 4: I walk in two worlds

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Today is Day 4 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to think about issues of race in your own family and community. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.

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In my public world, I walk around as a middle-class, white woman in America. Because of my skin color, I have the privilege of walking into stores and not being questioned about my intentions. I can go into upscale hotels and people assume I am a guest, not a worker. Like most people, there is more to my story than just the color of my skin.

In my personal world, I am married to a man of Afro-Caribbean descent and have two daughters who are bi-racial. We have been married for 11 years and our two daughters are seven and two. I am raising two young ladies who will not have the same privileges as me in America, solely based on the amount of melanin in their skin pigmentation. I have to teach them how to survive in this world as black women, without, myself, being a black woman. Luckily, I have had some wonderful friends, family, teachers, role models, and guides. I have come face-to-face with my own “white-privilege” and I have come out on the other side knowing that it is time to change the collective narrative about race.

We can change the American story of race from one of separate-ness and other-ness to one of inclusion and inter-connectedness. Inclusion and inter-connectedness do not mean, “I don’t see color,” (which by many, has been coded language to say – “we’re all okay as long as we all fit into the norms of the power culture.”) The 20th Century paradigm of race – one of separateness and other-ness – will not work for the upcoming generations in the 21stCentury. The 20th Century paradigm certainly doesn’t work for “hybrid-families” (aka bi-racial families) like mine. After all, there is no “other-ness,” when the blood of the “other” runs in your veins. The 21st Century story of race must be one of strength, survival, inclusion and inter-connectedness.

Inclusion and inter-connectedness means that when my family goes to church they hear stories and sing songs that represent both of our cultural heritages. It means that my daughters see people that look like their mother AND their father in the pulpit. It means our faith community makes room and resources available in the liturgical calendar for celebrations outside of the norms of the European-American calendar.

Inclusion and inter-connectedness means that when my older daughter learns about how, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” I tell her the whole story:Some Europeans did awful and reprehensible things to the people who lived in the Caribbean (her ancestors). Columbus is not a hero. However the story is more complicated than that. If it weren’t for European explorers AND the strength of her Carib Indian ancestors, she would not be here today. I am clear with her that, yes, her ancestors were victimized by the Europeans, and they SURVIVED. The story she tells herself about race will be one of strength and survival.

Bearing witness to the atrocities of colonialism, slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and current racism is a necessary part of the healing process. Changing the story of race in America, to me, means that we don’t stop the process at bearing witness. It means we also bear witness to the resistance movements that each of these atrocities sprouted. It means we change the story to include the voices of ALL my daughter’s ancestors – the Caribbean ancestors and the Irish ancestors. It means that we recognize that racism is a disease that afflicts and affects both the offender and the offended. As historian Howard Zinn once wrote, “What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.”

In order to “send this spinning the top of a world in a different direction,” we must listen, ask questions, and accept when we are wrong. When we are inspired to forgive and to be forgiven then we can truly connect and be inclusive. Zinn goes on to say, “The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” I challenge you to live into your principles and live as you think human beings should live.

Let’s “begin again in love” and re-write this story together.

In faith,

Dayna Edwards,

Director of Religious Exploration for Children and Youth at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

Life Coach, AWAKE! Ministries in Annapolis, MD

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Day 3: Living the Dream

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Today is Day 3 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to journal about a world where the human family lives whole and reconciled. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.

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Recently, several leaders from the UU Metro NY District took the time to have an important “virtual conversation” with SSL Campaign Manager Jennifer Toth about fundamental issues related to race in our country and our congregations. One of the participants, Dr. Janice Marie Johnson, offers today’s daily action:

Take a moment to imagine a world where, in the words of a vision statement adopted by the UUA’s Leadership Council, “all people are welcomed as blessings and the human family lives whole and reconciled.” Can you imagine that? Friends, that’s where we’re going! Today, I encourage you to share the virtual conversation below with your congregation or family. Ask each other: What are the ways we can move these deep conversations into tangible actions, making Dr. King’s dream come alive?

Friends, please take some time to read and absorb the virtual conversation below to see what takeaways inspire you as we recommit ourselves to Living the Dream.

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A Conversation with the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign

 and the UU Metro NY District: Living the Dream

Metro NY District Leaders who contributed to this conversation

  • Rev. Jude Geiger (Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington, NY)
  • Rev. Peggy Clarke, (First Unitarian Society of Westchester)
  • Rev. Michael Tino (UU Fellowship of Northern Westchester)
  • Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt (The Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York)
  • Rev. Hope Johnson (UU Congregation of Central Nassau)
  • Dr. Janice Marie Johnson (Director, Multicultural Ministries UUA)

 

Jennifer Toth: First, I want to thank you all both for participating in this virtual conversation, and for coming together to craft the statement you jointly wrote in July of last year after the Zimmerman verdict. I know I’ve mentioned this to you all, but it might bear repeating: that statement to me was really profound, and I’ve shared it often with colleagues. I actually used it to shape our vision for this first week of the 30 Days of Love campaign. You managed to capture very powerfully so many things that were happening at once, especially the disappointment all across the country over Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal, as well as the Supreme Court decision to gut parts of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which felt like a big step backward for our country. In the aftermath of these setbacks, you wrote, “It is time our congregations made a commitment to joining a national conversation about race–and a commitment to the actions that will come from that conversation.” 

 

Question: It has now been about six months since you released that statement. How do you feel now? Have our UU congregations really made that commitment to joining a national conversation on race?

Responses:

Jude: Obviously, I still feel like we’ve taken several big steps backward for our country since the diminishment of the VRA, and the acquittal in the Zimmerman ruling. I feel that six months in, we’ve not been able to articulate a plan forward once more. With the case- by- case changes in the VRA, I only see a long road of locally sourced legal fights. This is energy that would have felt better spent on moving us forward, rather than getting us back to where we were. If I could find a positive in all this, I do tend to see folks more sensitive to exactly how bad we’ve let equity slide. The pendulum swing backwards, may be fostering more progressive stances among people who were once more moderate.

Michael: No, I really don’t think we have in any concerted and meaningful way. Time after time, delegates to General Assemblies have affirmed our commitment to anti-racism, anti-oppression and multiculturalism. The UUA follows up with excellent programs and trainings. Our congregations respond with defensiveness and denial. I preach about race and privilege on a regular basis—and the response is generally positive. The follow-up work, though, is hard—often too hard for our comfortable congregations. Sure, there are exceptions—congregations that have really meaningfully taken up this work (and certainly many individual UUs are involved in this conversation in their communities). But overall, no, I don’t think we’re part of the conversation.

Peggy: As much as I wish they were mistaken, I have to agree with my colleagues. No, we have not made progress.  It seems to me that the pattern we have followed both nationally and in our congregations over the last six months is fairly common for religious liberals. First, we get angry or excited by an issue, like we did around the Zimmerman trial. We talk big, sometimes very big.  We demand change and action.  But we continue to look to someone else, to some institution or some group of people or, frankly anyone but ourselves, to do the work. How many times have I preached on these issues to be greeted with cheers and then…nothing. Follow-up meetings are empty. There are lots of apologies and folks who mean well, but few people are really ready to transform the system.

Hope: In many ways it’s a “both/and.” My expectations of Unitarian Universalist congregations and conversations are tempered by my view of the larger world. I am probably less disappointed than my colleagues are with regard to the slow pace of change. Change comes ever so slowly. Our congregations are a microcosm of the larger world. My congregation in Garden City, Long Island, NY, had to do much internal work before it was in a position to join a rich conversation about race. It had to first recognize the racism that was infused within our walls—and beyond. One of our former ministers, Rev. Farley Wheelwright, was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. The congregation didn’t hold him back but they had more pressing concerns about our building, and our money (or lack thereof). Then, I came along—a minister of color in a lily-white congregation. This was not an impetus for transformation, but rather an unfounded presumption that the congregation did not need to have a conversation about race because I was there. They assumed that they would not have hired, or called me, if they had not been “transformed.” My experience was, of course, quite different. However, I continued to do the work that I had to do both within my congregation and on the larger UU platform. Slowly we moved forward.

 

Question: Today we are celebrating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 50 years after his I Have a Dream speech. Can you talk more about what this day means to you all, and how we continue to do the work of forming multicultural partnerships in meaningful ways?

Responses: 

Jude: On Long Island, I see the work being done in the collaborations between local justice groups, area congregations, and regional service providers. Through the leadership of these groups, day to day personal changes are being made. Our congregants are making connections through the volunteer tutoring they do through these partnerships. Or the shelter system we host every Sunday in the cold season along with other area congregations. The multicultural partnerships that are formed through shared service lead to spiritual deepening. Friendships develop through the work, and it’s through those friendships where real transformation occurs.

Rosemary:  I am always very aware on this day that much of the life I now enjoy as an African-American woman is because of the work of Dr. King and thousands of other people working together.  None of us needs to look far in order to cross cultural boundaries and partner on issues that threaten our collective well being. The issues of race that continue to preoccupy us now have merged with issues of economic inequality in ways that are new and dangerous for everyone. The recent and alarming erosion of voting rights threatens all of us as well as our democracy. Because the threats are so great, I think it’s possible to make common cause even with people who might be fearful about a conversation based solely on race. It helps that we understand more about the intersections of oppressions than we used to. That understanding provides us with new tools to combat both racism and other oppressions; it helps us understand that we all have a vested interest in justice and equity, no matter who we are.

Hope:  Each time I take folks on the Living Legacy Pilgrimage, we visit the sites of the Civil Rights Movement. Annually, I visit the home of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I enter the kitchen where he had his epiphany, choosing to stay in the battle for justice for all. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to my ancestors, my family, those whom I serve, and those who are yet to come. I MUST VOTE. People—all kinds of people—died in order for me to have the right to vote. I MUST VOTE. I can’t use my unearned privilege—yes, I too have unearned privilege—and let injustice pass me by. I must use the lessons that I have learned to do positive work honoring the legacy of my people. To make change. To make a difference. The measure of success needs to be realized in my lifetime, within my sphere. I can’t change the world, but I can share my learnings with those around me—Unitarian Universalist and otherwise. Giving back is an integral a part of my ministry—as meaningful as preaching, as natural as breathing. I pay deference to those who came before. Much is at stake.

 

Question: In your statement, you wrote: “Day after day, in cases far less publicized than the Zimmerman trial, the lives of people of color are systematically devalued by our “justice” system. People of color—and especially Black men—are treated differently by our system, leading to their disproportionate disenfranchisement and subjecting them to legal discrimination against people with criminal records.” Can you talk more about this? It seemed like there was a national coming together to mourn Trayvon Martin, and the sense that justice was not served in this case. Are people still talking about this case and committing to action so that no more needless deaths happen? What can we do to keep this conversation going? What actions can we take to dismantle the systematic devaluation of everyone, especially Black men?

Responses:

Michael: Like many UU congregations, the congregation I serve (the UU Fellowship of Northern Westchester in Mount Kisco, NY) participated in reading and discussing Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. What Alexander describes so well, however, is the lived experience of people of color caught in the “justice” system in our country. People of color are “made examples of” by overzealous prosecutors while white people are routinely “given breaks.” People convicted of felonies are denied the right to vote—and thus the basic way American society gives anyone access to power. When the Trayvon Martin case has faded into unfortunately distant memory, people of color will still be facing an inherently unequal justice system. I feel like if we focus on specific cases as if they were exceptions to a larger rule, we miss the broad patterns of injustice that are replicated every day. We need to force ourselves to see the patterns.

Peggy: The necessary transformation of our “criminal justice” system first requires an awareness many UUs are privileged not to have to notice. Since reading The New Jim Crow, I am wearing new glasses. I can see the ways we are inculturated into accepting the disproportionality inherent in the system. First, we need to be vocal about the subliminal messages we receive daily so that those around us can see them too. Second, we have to challenge all those presuppositions about who gets what in our “criminal justice” system. Third, we have to demand a retraining of all parties involved. We also have to create vocal state-based groups that work to dismantle the laws that feed the injustice. And, frankly, every UU congregation should be part of this movement. If we want change, every last one of us will have to organize and get loud and demand that it happens.  We have to end the conspiracy of silence.

Hope: It’s complicated; it’s also worth working on diligently. Six degrees of separation….There was an incident in Long Island, NY in 2008—a case that that was very similar to the Trayvon Martin case that transformed my congregation. It centered on Marcelo Lucero, a man from Ecuador who was profiled—killed because he was an immigrant. This was a turning point in my congregation’s growth in understanding. Because we had slowly and surely laid the groundwork, we were able to take an authentic stand on the side of love. We were part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

 

Janice: Friends, I’m closing out this conversation with my colleagues in the Metro NY UU District and the SSL Campaign and leaving you with these thoughts:

When I work with our congregations, I recognize that we yearn to be in Beloved Community. This is in spite of our struggles in figuring out how best to move forward. There are not many places in our lives where we can have such deep conversations. 

The UUA’s Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group is ready to support your efforts—large, small, or somewhere in-between—as we collectively stand on the side of love.

 

Please, let’s keep this conversation alive!

 

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Day 2: It’s our turn to make America what it must become

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Today is Day 2 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to remember the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while you journal about your own community activism and engagement. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.

                                                                                                                    

“In some ways, these tactics are not Jim Crow. They do not feature Night Riders and sheets…This is in fact, James Crow, Esq. Jim Crow used blunt tools. James Crow, Esq. uses surgical tools, consultants, high paid consultants and lawyers to cut out the heart of black political power.”

- The Rev. William Barber, NAACP North Carolina president, speaking about the assault on voting rights

 

This week, as we honor the legacy and service of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and celebrate the movement that brought the old Jim Crow to its knees, we also recommit to dreaming new dreams and doing the hard work of building a movement to end the new Jim Crow. The “March on Washington” was originally named the “March for Jobs and Freedom.” And yet today the black unemployment rate is still twice that of whites. Black folks are now free to sit at any lunch counter, but they are far more likely to go to jail, be branded a criminal, and then be relegated to a permanent second-class status in which discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits is legal once again.

 

The memories of Oscar Grant, Travyon Martin, and the millions their memories represent are not forgotten. Nor is the fact that nearly 50 years after the signing of the Voting Rights Act, a disheartening new assault on minority voting rights is taking place in this country—yet another reason we must be vigilant and steadfast in our quest for justice.

 

During these 30 Days of Love, as we embark on a spiritual journey for social justice, we can also commit to listening closely when we are called to stand in solidarity. A few weeks ago, nine Unitarian Universalist ministers joined the NAACP in issuing a call to action to participate in a Mass Moral March in Raleigh, N.C. on Saturday, February 8th. North Carolina is serving as an epicenter of sweeping new voting restrictions, as well as a host of other regressive policies. It is being viewed as a “test state to unleash these regressive chains of injustice across the country,” said our friends in North Carolina, each of whom have engaged in civil disobedience because “we knew that to suppress the vote is to suppress the spirit of a person.”

 

Friends, will you please heed this call to action and join the Mass Moral March on February 8th

Click here for more information.   

 

Just one month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina passed the country’s worst voter suppression laws that will have a disproportionate impact on black voters in the state. The legislature made cuts to early voting and same-day voter registration, targeted the votes of students and young people, and repealed public financing of judicial elections designed to keep special interest money out of our courtrooms. That’s not all. The Governor signed into law a bill that repealed the state’s Racial Justice Act of 2009, which allowed inmates facing the death penalty to challenge their sentences on the basis of racial discrimination. Lawmakers and the Governor have also made drastic cuts to social programs and education.

 

Please come to Raleigh Feb. 8, 2014. Join UUA Pres. Rev. Peter Morales; Reverend William Barber II, President of the NAACP NC; and Unitarian Universalists in North Carolina for a Mass Moral March on Raleigh for voting rights and economic, racial, and social justice.

 

In my view, the most important lesson we can learn from Dr. King is not what he said at the March on Washington, but what he said and did after the march. In the years following the march, he did not play politics to see what crumbs a fundamentally corrupt system might toss to the beggars for justice. Instead, he connected the dots and committed himself to building a movement that would shake the foundations of our economic and social order, so that the dream he preached in 1963 might one day be a reality everywhere in the country. Dr. King said that nothing less than “a radical restructuring of society” could possibly ensure justice and dignity for all. And he was right.

 

On this Martin Luther King Day, we can ask ourselves, has progress been made on some fronts? Yes, of course. But have jobs and freedom truly been won? No, we have more than a long way to go. We need to dream new dreams. And then get to work following the examples of those all around us who are putting their freedom on the line for justice, feeding the hungry, and organizing all those who know what it means to be locked up, locked out, and left behind. It’s our turn to dream. It’s our turn to make America what it must become.

 

With hope and gratitude,

Michelle Alexander
Associate Professor of Law at Ohio State University, civil rights advocate, and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

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