January is a good time to practice holding contradictions and paradox. We’re past the darkest day of the year, and yet in for some of the coldest weather. We’ve just had New Year’s, with its promise of a fresh start mixed with the regret of things left undone in the last year. This January, I watched with joy a dear friend and her girlfriend show off their engagement rings. I prayed for another dear friend coping with a friend’s sudden death. I am thinking about so many people happy for the chance to connect with friends during the holiday but also struggling to get through another holiday without a parent.
As we commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day today, I think about the paradox of venerating those heroes willing to die to speak truth to power without venerating the violence of their deaths. (That’s been a hard one for folks who follow Jesus to figure out.) I think about truly honoring how far we’ve come, without glossing over how far we have to go. I think about the importance of this holiday to honor Dr. King, but also the danger of reducing the movement of which he was a part to one charismatic person. That encourages us to wait for the next “Great Leader” to take care of things, when actually we’re being called to organize and to follow the model set for us. (Hmm, Jesus comes to mind again here.)
So remember (or learn about) MORE members of the ongoing civil rights movement. Know the stories of women like Ella Baker, Diane Nash, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Viola Liuzzo. Know the stories of those killed like Medgar Evers and David Schwimmer, and those who survived like Fred Shuttlesworth and Robert F. Williams. Know the story of Bayard Rustin.
And notice the stories going on all around us — stories about people who respond to hate with non-violence, who stand, trembling, against injustice — even when not directed at them, who make space for difference instead of fearing it.
The Adrinka symbol Sankofa is pretty well known anymore. Translated “go back and get it,” or “go back to fetch it,” it reminds us to hold the contradiction of looking back in order to move forward. Look back and remember, not as a place to stop, but as a beginning to stepping forward into the future. So let’s celebrate today not only by remembering, but also by moving forward!