I hope many of my American readers are, like me, enjoying a day off today. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day here in the states. Unfortunately, this often gets translated as, “Wait, why is the bank closed?” Day, but still. It’s important, and is worth reflecting on.
We’ve been celebrating MLK Day in the US since 1986. All fifty states celebrated it under the term, “Marting Luther King, Jr. Day” in 2000. Prior to that, some had resisted celebrating or actually calling it that. This was due to
costs concerns about communism racism. But we’re all on board now.
When the September 11th attacks first happened, there was talk of it becoming a national holiday, or day of mourning. I was against it. I could just see it becoming another Memorial Day or Labor Day–who knows why, but we have the day off! Let’s get some Coronas and grill some meat!
This is, of course, the danger with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s a day off. Extra time to go to the gym, get the house cleaned, a rare opportunity to go out on a Sunday night. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we should really keep it to Columbus Day. (Because, come on, that one is ridiculous.)
Dr. King reminds us of an extremely important part of our profession–a commitment to social justice. Without this component, social work is incomplete. We see the same problems, day in and day out. Many of which are very complicated, but many of which have fairly clear solutions. Maybe our public schools in the Bronx should be less terrible, in some way! Perhaps “Back to Work” public assistance programs could actually assist people in getting back to work, by helping them find or train for jobs. And of course, we should probably all be ashamed to have so many viable Republican candidates for president who are unable to distinguish between “welfare recipient” and “black person.”
Maybe, there’s something, even just a little something, that we can do about that.
We very often get so overwhelmed by the putting-out-fires aspect of our day to day work. Yes, I want to work for housing and school reform, but I need to accompany a client to her public housing interview, and then go to a school meeting for my chronically truant teen. I’m not going to start making cheesy working mom jokes about “needing to clone myself” (seriously, ladies, we’re all better than that) but it’s not easy. I know I made a lot more time for marching, rallies, petitions, and organizing when I was in college. I had less outside responsibility, and was significantly less jaded and worn down by life.
We can’t let that happen. It just isn’t right, and therefore, really isn’t an option. It’s not what Dr. King, or everyone’s social work hero, Jane Addams (who also got shit for her commitment to pacifism), would have done. Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service seems to be one good way of addressing this. But, like Christmas, we need to remember to keep this with us all through the year. However tired and overwhelmed we are, Dr. King almost definitely had more on his mind and on his plate. This is the legacy we need to try to live up to. Not just doing good, but working for change.
I’m always asking for more, aren’t I? Don’t worry, I often fall short of my own expectations.
One of the things that I’ve learned in recent years, particularly since my parents’ trip to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, is that Dr. King was essentially knew that he was going to be assassinated. He knew that people were stalking him and he received death threats regularly. He knew what was coming, and he wasn’t happy about it. He was a religious man, and he believed in what he was doing and that he was called to do it, but he was still afraid.
“Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”
This is what I’m always trying to remind myself of. Dr. King was a great, gifted man, but he was a man. A human. He forced himself to go above and beyond, even though he was tired, he was in danger, and had a wife and children to think about.
So perhaps I can bring myself to complain a bit less when that rally I know I should attend is right after work. It’s literally the least I can do.