Finding Courage on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday

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Finding Courage on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday

Categories: Blog

by Tiffany McDowell
Director, Equity Institute

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on courage. So much of my work has been to educate myself and others about fairness, justice and equity; what these words mean and how we can achieve them. But something we don’t talk enough about is why this work is so difficult – fear.

There are many instances where those who attempted to work for equity have been held back by opposition, leaving the rest of us to be paralyzed by the fear of experiencing the same. The traumas our predecessors experienced are reproduced in our lives and we fail to move past them.

One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is “Our problem is not to be rid of fear but rather to harness and master it”. Dr. King is the ultimate example of courage – knowing the work to eliminate racism and oppression is difficult, challenging and dangerous but doing it anyway. He knew that any fear he had would be outweighed by the achievement of this ultimate goal. He wrote about this in his sermon, “Antidotes for Fear”:

Courage and cowardice are antithetical. Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations; cowardice is a submissive surrender to circumstance.

As we commemorate Dr. King’s birthday and the National Day of Racial Healing on January 22 with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we are asked to take the following actions:

1. Reinforce and honor our common humanity, while celebrating the distinct differences that make our communities vibrant.
2. Acknowledge the deep racial divisions that exist in America and must be overcome and healed.
3. Commit to engaging people from all racial and ethnic groups in genuine efforts to increase understanding, communication, caring and respect for one another.

It remains clear to me that taking the steps to heal requires extreme courage. We have to acknowledge the historical traumas, listen to one another and find solutions to move forward together. None of these actions can be taken without courage, with the faith that through healing our fractured communities we will get closer to achieving Dr. King’s dream.