Step out across divide to make nation better
The current racial protests remind me of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death on April 4, 1968, and the speech by Bobby Kennedy later that evening. Bobby reminded the crowd that his brother had also been assassinated by a white man and asked in what direction we want to move as a country. He noted the vast majority of white Americans and the vast majority of black Americans want to live together making a better life for all Americans and for all the world.
MLK showed us the way — document the injustices. The photographs from the peaceful protest he led in Birmingham not only outraged black Americans but the vast majority of Americans. Those newspaper articles and the peaceful march on the Lincoln Memorial a few months later, paved the way for the landmark Civil Rights Act legislation later that year. Today almost every person can take and post such photos from their cellphones to raise awareness.
The following day, Kennedy spoke in Cleveland on the mindless menace of violence in America. The violence of riots and civil disorder, but also the violence of institutional indifference, inaction and injustice. With the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, a slowing economy and rising international tensions, it is easy to take a narrow view of our own concerns. But Bobby recognized that we face the challenges of this and every short moment in history together as brothers and sisters. As his younger brother later eulogized, Bobby was a man “who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.” It is now our generation’s time to step up and make the world as we want it to be. We can start on a better path by stepping out of our own comfort zones to meet our unknown neighbors, participating in community meetings, volunteering in a nonprofit or visiting a racially different church.
So I will end as Kennedy did, asking the audience to say a prayer for George Floyd’s family. But also to pray for our country, that it realizes the dream of its creed; and as his older brother did, asking that we invoke the blessings of peace.
STEPHEN J. POTASHNIK
Formerly of Howland