We rise and then we pull ourselves down
Fifty years have gone by so quickly, and while it is appropriate to celebrate the life of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, certain not-so-celebratory realisations need to be acknowledged also.
The 1960s were a high period of transformation in the movements for civil rights and human rights. The persons, the songs and the spirit of the time were all revolutionary and progressive. Fortunate for me, I have the privilege of being a cognisant witness to the era preceding Dr King and can fully appreciate his input and the movements of his time.
More important, however, I can see what happened and where we have come since then.
Sadly much of the good work of a generation of persons such as Dr King and others who were persons possessed by a vision of freedom and a better life was stolen by a generation of want-to-be leaders and corruption. This is not a black phenomenon; it has happened worldwide. You can hit just about every country that shook off the yoke of oppression and you will see they next became the newly enslaved, subjugated by their own so-called liberators.
During my travels in the mid-Seventies, it was such a common occurrence for me to meet persons in airports and on flights who were very much part of the progressive movements for change, but now were running from their home countries. Sadly, too, these were persons who were highly skilled, their departures representing the beginnings of brain drain for their respective countries.
What happened? It wasn’t that these new leaders were not genuine about the causes — at least I don’t think so. They were too often overly zealous. It is that zeal which is no substitute for principles, and too often persons were graded by their zeal, hence loyalty, and not by what they had to offer or by their reasoning ability.
You see, identifying or complaining about the problem is not the same as providing the solution. Recognising injustice and inequality is not the same as identifying a solution to bring an end to it. Being brave and daring to tear down society is not the same as building a new one.
The old biblical verse that says “To everything, there is a time and a season” has been apparently missed by too many societies. It may be useful to have an axe when you are cutting down the forest for your home, but when you are making furniture for the house you have to put the axe down and use a finer tool.
So it is with building a new world.
In our commemoration of the Reverend Martin Luther King, let’s remember he had a dream, and it’s a dream that lies unfulfilled. This is not a kumbaya moment; it is a commemoration of a movement to make a better world. This was not the “gentle Jesus meek and mild” story; it’s the turning over the tables in the temple story.
We too often do the same with Nelson Mandela. We talk about the reconciliation, which is good, but what about the rebuilding of the desperate lives of the deprived citizens and making South Africa a more inclusive society?
Like the songwriter Peter Tosh said: “Everyone is crying out for peace, none is crying out for justice.”
I don’t want any peace if it does not include justice.
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