Every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
To me, fulfilling King’s Dream begins with self-examination. Have I contributed to the struggle against racism, poverty and war, or have I been an apathetic bystander?
To honor King, I try to do as honest a self-assessment as I can. My racial and cultural biases, the times I snickered, mocked, or outright hated, when I was insensitive and hurtful, these are shameful. They wither under the light of King’s principles of human rights and human dignity. I resolve to be a better, more tolerant human being.
This year, the King holiday is especially meaningful, coming as it does a little more than a week after the senseless tragedy in Tucson. Dr. King’s dream of a peaceful society seems far away.
The shooting was the act of a madman, that’s all there is to it. Jared Lee Loughner is mentally ill. The only thing pulling his strings is the dysfunctional biochemical reactions in his brain, not the vitriol of our public discourse.
It’s the finger-pointing and politicizing of the tragedy that disturbs me, as it reveals deep divisions in our society, divisions that don’t seem possible to bridge (unless you’re a real dreamer).
The real culprit in this tragic event is the inadequate mental health services in this country. The mental health system is as vital a part of the public safety network as police and fire protection–can we not see that now? If something is not done to better help the mentally ill, there will be more Jared Lee Loughners in the news. Every day there must be tens of thousands of personal tragedies involving the mentally ill across our nation.
Mental illness is a disease. Unlike people with cancer or diabetes or other diseases, the mentally ill are stigmatized and discriminated against. They are discarded, rejected, feared, made fun of. The mentally ill are far more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator.
In the spirit of Martin Luther King, we should resolve to end the stigma of mental illness. For me, King’s dream was of an inclusive society where we respect one another and care for each individual.
“I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked.
“I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison.
“I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.
“That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
The kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.
[I have personal experience in caring for someone I love with mental illness. See my post I’m Walking for Lizzie and Millions Affected by Mental Illness].
Great photo essay on King’s legacy at LA Times
Painted on the side wall of the neighborhood auto shop or the corner mom-and-pop store, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s image proclaims his place in the American pantheon.
In some neighborhoods, he looks as if he might have had a Latin ancestor, and he makes common cause with the Virgin of Guadalupe and Pancho Villa. In other neighborhoods, he’s accompanied by a stern Malcolm X or the pyramids of Egypt.
Photographer Camilo Jose Vergara has been documenting such murals in Los Angeles and other American cities since well before the United States declared a holiday in King’s name.
Talisman, memorial and declaration of principles, the murals conjure the great man, the enduring dream — and the power of the billboard.
–Photographs by Camilo Jose Vergara