In 1917, my maternal great-grandmother, Margaret Wilkerson, was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. Her only crime was that she was a black woman, born and raised in the Jim Crow era south when society and policies were not kind to African Americans. Her perpetrators were never brought to justice. My grandmother was just three years old at the time. The only memory she had of her mother was old stories told to her by the distant relatives that raised her. Being just a toddler, there was no way she could understand the magnitude of what happened. But that pivotal moment was only a precursor to the hardships and pain she would endure in her life.
Although those events took place over a century ago, the pain is still ever present in my heart. Watching the horrors of recent events like Charlottesville pulled the scab off of old wounds. I’ve spent many nights crying and wrestling with my inner turmoil, finding it so hard to understand how this kind of blind rage and hatred continues to persist in 2018. I wish I could say I understood. I wish I could say it doesn’t hurt. It hurts. Deeply.
Separation causes pain. Inequality causes pain. Injustice causes pain. These disparities were the very thing Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent his life trying to rectify. As a federally recognized holiday since 1983, Dr. King's day is meant to allow us to stop and reflect on his mission and legacy. Examine our own hearts and minds and see how the world around us can be changed if we decide to take a step forward in love and peace, instead of retaliating with more violence and hatred. It's not easy. It's never been easy. But things that are really worth it seldom are.
My family recently visited Birmingham, Ala. over the holiday season. We toured the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum. It was quite surreal walking in the very same steps as Dr. King and many other civil rights leaders and pioneers. Reading archival documents, watching historical footage and exploring relics of their journey. What was most chilling was having my daughter sit on the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church where four little black girls, just a few years younger than she is currently, were viciously murdered by White supremacists in 1963. Unlike my great-grandmother's assailants, three of the four criminals of this heinous atrocity were eventually brought to justice.
Listening again to Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech in its entirety this week really re-energized my spirit and resolve to keep seeking justice, freedom and equality for all. While we are experiencing a great deal of hate and negativity in the world today, I utterly and completely believe that love will prevail. I long for the day when we no longer have to dream of the world Dr. King spoke so eloquently about...because it will be our reality!