Written by Founder and CEO, Sara Potler LaHayne
When Dr. Martin Luther King arrived in Memphis, TN in April, 1968, he sensed danger.
On his way to Memphis, the airplane carrying him had to be guarded overnight and searched once the passengers had boarded, due to potential threats. When he got to Memphis, rumors of violence and death followed him.
King proceeded anyway; he had already seen the mountaintop, and he had to share his vision with the people. After delivering the Mountaintop speech on April 3rd, King would never speak again.
The reason we remember Dr. King every January is also the reason he is no longer with us: King refused to shy away from the moment. He refused to back down in the face of insurmountable odds or grave danger. He kept speaking, marching, and organizing until April 4, 1968–the day he was shot.
That is just who Dr. King was. During that speech, King said that if he were given the opportunity to live in any time period, he wouldn’t pick the time of the Egyptians nor the Greeks, not the time of the Renaissance nor Emancipation, but the 1960s in the United States of America.
“Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up,” King said. “The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”
As Dr. King alludes, our differences and our suffering hide in the dark corners of our country–the family who can’t afford health insurance, the single mom working late nights to put food on the table, or the student who feels too scared to go to school.
We don’t shine a light on these problems. We don’t talk about them. And now, during a time of uncertainty, we seem surprised by them. For as much progress as we have made in the last decade, we have still neglected some basic truths about the core of our society.
We are not as open as we thought. We are not as empathetic as we thought. We are not as safe as we thought.
And that is why every single day we work with teachers and students in the toughest of situations. Beyond talking about difficult subjects, we embody them, feel them, and experience them. We stare them right in the face and let them know that we are not scared and we will not back down.
The sun will rise again tomorrow and we will face the same challenges until we come together to face our demons each and every day.
Or, as Dr. King put it:
“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”