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Let’s reflect on how we can follow King’s message

Martin Luther King

April is designated as Hospitality Month, a time to reflect on how we treat each other, especially strangers. In Bermuda, we are more likely to think only of the second pillar of our economy. However, in its essence, “hospitality” speaks directly to how we treat fellow friends, family and “outsiders”. It is the “glue” that holds any society together.

There is the incredible irony that on the fourth day of April, as we consider the implications of “hospitality”, we are reminded of the assassination of Martin Luther King on that date in 1968 — an extreme act of “hostility”. Martin’s life of service to the human family, in which he walked the walk of hospitality, was ended almost 50 years ago, but his legacy that demonstrated the power of love, is today still very much alive across the globe.

Homo sapiens over thousands of years used their wisdom to survive incredible odds through the ability to collaborate with others. Many faith traditions include iconic stories of hospitality; for instance, the transformative episode of Abraham in Genesis, reaching out to three strangers crossing the desert. Our species’ collective journey includes paradigm-shifting milestones, and the movement closely identified with MLK was one such mountaintop experience.

Sparked by the bravery of Rosa Parks, that movement was galvanised through the soaring oratory of Martin, a reluctant drum major. Those everyday people who rallied, courageously faced down the hostility of the system of segregation, reinforced by terrorism, especially from the Ku Klux Klan. Notwithstanding that African-Americans were only 12 per cent of the population, among other unfavourable odds, that movement effected progress in the world’s most powerful nation after years of effort.

One could only imagine the extent of the hospitality that Montgomery people of colour had to dig down for, as they staged a bus boycott that began in winter and lasted more than a year. That at a time when only a small minority would have owned cars.

In the years just before to his death, Martin came under pressure from all sides. Many of the younger activists became radicalised and began pushing away those white activists whose support had been so critical. However, Martin stayed the course, maintaining that hospitality which was the core of his philosophy. Less than a month before his death, he hosted a “summit” of activists from across the country in Atlanta, including a wide variety of people representing what Jesse Jackson would later label as a rainbow coalition — everyone from hillbilly housewives to Native Americans to Latinos. Experiencing the success of that effort, noted peaceful-protest guru Myles Horton congratulated King, saying: “I believe we caught a glimpse of the future.”

On the principle of being concerned as much about the welfare of “others” as he was of himself, Martin took a strong position against the Vietnam War, despite his controversial position being opposed by many of his fellow, traditional black leaders.

For Martin Luther King, this principle was simple: do unto others what you would have them do unto you.

In Bermuda, let’s reflect on how we might use that principle in our everyday lives. This has great implications for the “climate” in our community and the success of our hospitality industry.

Over the month of April, we may consider celebrating that spirit of hospitality and invite a “stranger” for coffee, tea or a meal. We could even go a step farther, emulating Martin when he reached out to the radicalised Stokely Carmichael after the two had become “estranged”. The dreamer recognised that no matter how strained, that in the true spirit of hospitality, relationships could be renewed, fostering better communities and a better world.

Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda