January 15, 2018

Fifty-five Years Later – We Stand Together

Fifty-five years ago, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded the world it was our responsibility to expose injustice. In his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote, “Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicine of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

Fifty-five years ago, Dr. King proclaimed he was disappointed with those who took no action, as that was an expression of “lukewarm acceptance” and lack of devotion to justice. Despite his advocacy and that of others, I believe Dr. King would be saddened, although not surprised, to witness the continuing hatred and persecution present in 2018 in the United States. He would likely be disappointed to learn that brutality continues, complacency is rampant, and lukewarm acceptance yet exists, despite his dream for progress and freedom. He would be saddened to see the boil that is injustice has not yet been cured.

If Dr. King were alive today, I believe he would denounce our government’s current actions that not only break families apart, but also seek to divide and “cleanse”, as in Nazi Germany. Dr. King would be displeased to hear our political leaders suggest the only people worthy enough to enter the United States are white. He would be ashamed to hear the President of the United States disparagingly characterize countries in Africa or Latin America with vulgar language. If we are to expose injustice, we need to be ashamed as well.

Fifty-five years after Dr. King wrote the initial portions of his Letter from Birmingham Jail on the margins of a newspaper, I believe he would again tell us that the true saviors of democracy are those that denounce injustice and oppression. He would want us to pursue “substance-filled positive peace where all men…respect the dignity and worth of human personality.”

Dr. King reminded us that it was illegal to provide aid and comfort to a Jew during Hitler’s Germany, yet he stated he would have aided his Jewish brothers and sisters. Similarly, we must respect the dignity and worth of our Salvadoran brothers and sisters impacted by the sudden ending of Temporary Protective Status. We must stand with our undocumented American youth and urge the passage of a clean Dream Act to make the protections of DACA permanent. We cannot disregard our neighbors’ worth and dignity by allowing their forced return to the violence, poverty, and persecution from which they fled. We must not turn our backs on those of any ethnicity living in poverty in the United States.

The United States has nothing to gain and everything to lose by deporting vital, law-abiding members of our community. We must stop criminalizing those who seek safety, hope, freedom, and opportunity within our borders. Our lawmakers should be thoughtful and seek legislation that does not further divide the poor and the rich. We must work to find equitable solutions that protect all of us, regardless of the circumstances of our birth, religion, or gender. In his letter, Dr. King observed that “we who engage in non-violent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”

At Catholic Charities, we strive to expose the injustice and provide space for the uncomfortable tension Dr. King named. I am proud that at Catholic Charities we stand together in the face of both cruelty and indifference. While I believe Dr. King would be disappointed about the rhetoric and policies promoted by the current administration, I also believe he would stand with all of us who take action to expose injustice, and give space to tension. In 2018, we must stand together to cure this boil of injustice and heal it expeditiously, before it grows so large that it paralyzes our nation’s progress and scars our future generations.

Jilma L .Menses, JD
Chief Executive Officer