Hurt: Remembering Dr. King

We seem to be living in an era when many of the voices we have revered from the past are under assault by various pockets of our population.

Regardless of whom one quotes, there seem to be those who would tear at the fabric of our nation by trying to assign some ulterior motive to what they said. As we prepare to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on January 15th it is tempting to quote some passage from his courageous “I have a Dream Speech.”

True, he talked about police oppression, about the failure of the “Negro” race, to attain the American Dream in full measure, about making justice a heritage for “all of God’s children,” and he recanted the oppression his race had experienced in this country for decades, but he also encouraged all of us to meet “physical force with soul force,” and laced his speech with Christian theology and Biblical metaphors—he was after all, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.. As an Indiana clergyman has reminded us recently “The hands of the Almighty are often found at the end of our own arms.”

A supporter of mine who has worked with some tribes of northern Natal in South Africa tells me he is often greeted with Sawa bona, an African greeting that literally translates to “I see you.” If he wishes to be accepted as a friend, he will respond by saying Sikhona, while striking his chest with both hands. Literally, he is saying, “I am here.” Part of the spirit of Ubuntu, a cultural element of sub Saharan cultures, is the idea that a person is a person because of other people. In a more contemporary vein, as the African American writer Ralph Ellison told us so profoundly in his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953, ten years before Dr. King’s speech, we actually have to see another person first before we can recognize our common humanity.

As the Reverend Dr. King said:

"When we allow freedom to ring-when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last, Free at last, Great God almighty, we are free at last."

Let’s give it a try in our state. Can we risk saying to all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of race or creed, Sawa bona—I see you? We might just get back an occasional, Sikhona. That would be a new breath of freedom that would truly honor Dr. King’s rich memory.