This weekend we travel to Memphis, Tenn. from Chicago’s West Side on a sacred journey to honor the sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, and it is a significant historical milestone in the life of our community and nation. There are at least three areas of interest that we should all take note of in our life and times.
First, Dr. King has now truly passed on into historical eternity. His death at 39 years old means that he has now been gone longer than he lived. Those older than 40 have some recollection of the power of his life and how he reshaped history and changed lives. Dr. King’s life is a testament to the power of commitment to justice and selfless service. We too can live lives of meaning and power as we commit to justice and service.
Second, a 40-year span is recognized as the marker for a generational transition of leadership and responsibility. For the last 39 years, almost all African-American leaders had some direct connection to Dr. King. That is a tribute to his commitment to mentorship.
This year, however, we have seen a shift-with a new generation of young people emerging to change the political and social landscape. The need for this transition is becoming increasingly clear as we face difficult challenges that call for new approaches. How do we respond to the high levels of violence and the low levels of respect for life? How do we respond to families in crises and high rates of incarceration? How do we survive a global economy with high dropout rates, low skills, high debts, and little access to capital? We desperately need new leaders with vision-and bold and creative responses to our community’s critical conditions.
Third, interrelated to the other two themes, there is a need for true renewal of spirit. Forty years after Dr. King, there is a longing to believe in the possibility of change for the better. There is a hunger for the real, the authentic. Prophets of old told it like it was even though their words were discomforting. Until the reality of sickness is faced, people are not prepared to accept that which must hurt in the short run to heal in the long run.
Forty years after Dr. King, we need voices that challenge us now more than ever. We need uncompromising voices that tell us we can do better-be better than we are.
In this generation, the change we seek begins with the challenge of higher expectations-of ourselves and one another.