Today we remember the leadership of Martin Luther King in his own chapter of the struggle for racial justice. But we’re living through our own chapter of that struggle today, in which the rise of overt white supremacy and the support it receives from the White House shows us just how far we still have to go.
So I want to remember that along with King and so many others, the real hero of that movement is the simple human virtue of perseverance, lodged in the hearts, minds, and souls of thousands of people we’ve never heard of. We think of leaders like Martin Luther King in the context of pivotal moments, like the huge march on Washington in 1963. It’s only much more dimly that we can glimpse the years and years of hard work that lifted them up, the enormous, relentless labor before the little cracks started to show up in the culture and then to widen into clear and powerful lines of change. Any real change that has ever happened in our world has come because of countless ordinary people who made their choices and took their risks not in a few electric moments but again and again, over the course of years.
King once said, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” This is a call to imagine our justice efforts in a different way. Instead of envisioning a linear path — in which a campaign or protest or movement will lead to a specific outcome on a predictable timeframe — we need to see our effort as part of a web of relationship. It goes on as long as we live, punctuated with high and low points but never truly over. It’s made up of a kind of solidarity that stays open and observant to all the large and small ways we make a difference. And what it asks of us, above all, is perseverance.
~ Kathleen McTigue