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Heeding Dr. King’s Warning:
Don’t Sleep Through the “Revolution”

by Jose J. Soto, J.D.
Lincoln, Nebraska

As we prepare to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I take this opportunity to share with you portions of a sermon he delivered at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., on March 31st 1968. Dr. King’s thoughts and concerns are as valid today as they were thirty-three ago.

Dr. King reminded us on that occasion of the often-overlooked social reality embedded in the story of "Rip Van Winkle." When Rip Van Winkle went up into the mountain, a sign had a picture of King George the Third of England. When he came down twenty years later the sign had a picture of George Washington. Things were different all right -- in effect, Rip had slept through a revolution. He slept through changes that altered the course of history. Dr. King’s point:

“One of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands.They end up sleeping through a revolution.”

The “revolution” today is more of an evolution in technology, demography, and society. Nonetheless, the challenges are as demanding as if it were a “revolution.” Dr. King’s own words best capture the demands of the day in our communities, this nation and the world:

“We are challenged to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood.”

A reality is that science and technology have compressed time, space and distance to create a “global village.” However, the village seems to be one of strangers, not of neighbors. A village of individual interests, not of collective concern. On these points, Dr. King’s admonishment in 1968 is just as applicable today:

“Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this.”

Dr. King further reminds us of our inter-dependence when he states that “we must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Dr. King’s message is quite clear in these regards, while we all are not the targets of hate, discrimination and bigotry based on race, color and ethnicity, we are all the victims of these social ills.

Dr. King also reminded those gathered in 1968 of the “challenge to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injustice from our nation.” He stated:

“It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of White Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle -- the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly -- to get rid of the disease of racism.”

Progress in race relations cannot be left to the goodwill and effort of others. It is a responsibility that falls squarely on the shoulders of every member of our organizations and communities. The mere passage of time will not excise the evils of racism and discrimination. Active efforts must continue in the present and we must be deliberate in our planning to address these concerns in the future. Our children and grandchildren deserve a better inheritance than trite platitudes denouncing racism and symbolic efforts toward its eradication.

On this point, Dr. King’s words are instructive:

“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, "Wait on time."

Dr. King realized in his day, many of us today acknowledge, and many more “must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice.”

In the closing of his sermon, Dr. King reminded us that “there comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.” I believe today that there is a need for all people of goodwill to come with a massive act of conscience and say that racism is wrong, eradicating it is right. Discrimination is wrong, eliminating it is right. Racial injustice is wrong, fundamental fairness for all is right.

These are some of the challenges Dr. King reminded those gathered in Washington D.C. in 1968; these are the challenges that we are faced with in the year 2000, and beyond. These are important and critical matters that must be faced and resolved. As we face these challenges I am hopeful Dr. King’s words will serve to motivate us:

"Our days begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Jose J. Soto, J.D. is Vice President for AA/Equity/Diversity Southeast Community College Area, Lincoln, Nebrask

Published in In Motion Magazine December 2, 2000.

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