It was autopsy day at my forensic center. I arrived while it was still dark. These are long days that start early and are intense. It is my job to help with the autopsy but also record and document the findings both in written form and photographically.
As I walked into the operating suite I saw the body of a black male. He was clothed in a body bag and picked up at a hospital after having organ and tissue donation. He caught my attention because I was listening to the news on the way into work and there was noisy and senseless banter on the radio by political pundits. They were arguing about race relations. It was Martin Luther King Day, this time last year, and the debate was a non-debate by two angry individuals wed to their position, not really seeking resolution. As I gazed upon this man I thought, “how tragic.”
You see, the black man before me was almost fifty percent white and the other fifty percent was dark pigmentation. Since he had been an organ tissue donor, he had gone through the process of being a skin donor. This is a process where the outer layer of skin is removed for transplantation on those who need the protective layer because of burns or pathologies such as cancer. It struck me how absurd the perception of skin color has become a source of judgement and conflict. His gift was a prime example of the stupidity of mankind dividing itself by skin color. There is no real skin "color."
Sometimes the best thing when trying to find out someone’s positions on a subject is to go directly to the source. This is what I did when I was asked by my wife to write a speech for her for a Martin Luther King breakfast. My wife is Mexican American and very active in the inner-city charities. I used as my source “A Testament of Hope” which is a compilation of speeches and letter written by Reverend King and edited by James W. Washington. It was a revelatory read for me.
In reading his works from Birmingham prison which he penned in 1967 I found a reverent man, deeply Christian in point of few but open to the opinion and fears of others. He was a man that believed in change through moral example and embraced the work of Gandhi by making change through nonviolence. Reading the book made me realize that much of his message had been distorted by power sources that saw the movement as a solely political movement. In fact, Reverend King wanted to extract the movement from the political to a moral imperative.
The key to his movement was love not hate. He believed that we are all God’s children, created with an innate dignity no matter our station:
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well. No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
Reverend King pointed out that man’s dignity came not from his social status but rather from his attitude towards his own self-worth and excellence. All stations in life have dignity.
In Birmingham prison he called on all men and women to action:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied." We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights.
In the above quote from a letter to clergy he made the case that evil will triumph if good men do nothing. He called on a nation to have a moral examination and change the selfishness and folly of race division and embrace each other as brothers and sisters.
As I looked at the young black white man on the gurney I thought of those who still perpetuate racism on both sides and realized that this was not King’s message but rather a message distorted by political vendors. Individuals and groups that insist to divide us by color and gender take the very opposite position of the man I regard as one of the most honorable and important men of the twentieth century. We should all read or reread his own words. His ultimate goal was a color-blind society. A society based not on melatonin but rather the dignity of each created individual. In his own words:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."…
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
We must stop classifying each other by the superficial and see each other as individuals, simply part of a greater whole.
Read his words, not the comments of others.
Have a blessed day.