Ongoing Challenges – A reflection on MLK Jr. Day

Back in November, I woke up one morning in Copenhagen, Denmark to news of the Ferguson trial verdict in Missouri. My heart was heavy as it didn’t feel right what had happened. I read of the riots back home, as well as the peaceful protests. I felt proud of the solidarity no matter what race was standing up to the issue of unjust race relations in my home country. I must have drafted a Facebook post five times, each time carefully choosing my words and the appropriate link or civil rights activist quote, then each time deleting those same words. My mom’s prudent voice was in my head, “When in doubt, don’t.”

I walked into the living room of the Airbnb I was staying and spoke with Kirsten, a retired social anthropologist and my gracious host. She translated what the local radio was saying about the news from the United States, my home country. A young black man had been unarmed, and shot to death by a neighborhood watch man, he was not going to be punished for the life he had taken All sides of the story were being told in the news, but no matter how the story was situated, it never felt right.

Yet, I was in doubt for how to effectively communicate how it made me feel in a way that felt worth sharing. Instead, I “liked” the posts of friends and public figures who had words that helped guide the feelings of that day.

Today, my own social media news feeds have been full of references to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of which the day’s holiday is named. It has reminded me of the experiences I had learning about the Civil Rights Movement while traveling just a few months ago. Above is a photo of the final quote on the way out the door of the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama which was part of the BSW United States tour. After walking through a historical re-creation of sorts from the events of the bus boycott, I was in awe of the amount of creativity and perseverance that went into the desegregation and legal rights of black individuals in this circumstance and time.

Privilege is a word that I am drawn to as I explore global threats and the current outlook for humanity. Someone along the way told me that privilege affords people the ability to not think about their privilege. Whatever the privilege may be, it often seems to be the way it should be – it just is the way it is. From this perspective, Dr. King’s quote struck me.

As a white American young female born into a family and life where a rather vast set of opportunities are available to me, I only know that perspective of what it means to live my life. I only know what every day in my own two feet feels like to walk. I can think all day about others, try to empathize their realities, relate in ways that bring us together. But even someone who looks, talks, and walks similar to me is still different that me. And I must respect that, just as I must respect differences that are even further from what I recognize as my everyday life.

I will never know exactly what it is like to be anyone other than myself. What I do know is that I have a lot of respect and admiration for those who worked toward a reality where all individuals can stand along side each other and share in the privilege to have a future full of opportunities to become their best selves in a world which will embrace whatever that means. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a wonderful example of a person who embodied these ideals and beliefs. On this day, I write this reflection with hope in my heart that the best is yet to come for all of humanity.

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