Troy Williams: What would MLK think of today’s America?
For the second year in a row, annual Dr. Martin Luther King celebrations across the nation are being canceled because of the COVID-19 surge. Many organizers say they want to avoid even “the faintest possibility of sponsoring a super-spreader event.”
MLK events themselves are meant for the specific purpose of bringing people of all races together for fellowship, but the health risks are again too significant to accomplish that feat.
Moreover, health officials say COVID-19 affects and kills African Americans disproportionately compared to whites. Experts say majority Black counties have nearly six times the rate of deaths as majority-white counties.
As we reminisce about the words of wisdom from Dr. King this weekend, one can’t help but wonder how he would respond to this pandemic and what he would say to America, especially the African-American community. As it relates to healthcare in general, he once said: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane because it often results in physical death.”
Unquestionably, over 50 years ago, Dr. King put healthcare at the top of his most shocking injustices. The quote, listed as a statement, was made by Dr. King in Chicago on March 25, 1966, to the second convention of the Medical Committee on Human Rights. It doesn’t tend to be one of his most-remembered quotes because there are many great ones, but it is squarely aimed at healthcare.
Dr. King’s thinking evolved toward the end of his life. Just weeks before his death, he was busy organizing another March on Washington, this time; it was called the “Poor People’s Campaign.” He was bothered by what he described as a consequence of multiple evils: lack of education, restricting job opportunities; poor housing, which suppressed home life; stifled initiative; damaged, fragile family relationships; and distorted personality development.
He also believed solving poverty was flawed in that each perceived solution sought to solve poverty by first solving something else. It would be difficult to assess whether he would be pleased with America’s progress since his death.
We have made some significant steps forward, but we have lacked in several areas. Who’s to blame? Perhaps, we all have a shared responsibility to make things better, not just with words but deeds.
On three occasions, I've attended Sunday morning worship at Dexter King Memorial Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. King was the pastor of the church from 1954 until 1960. My daughter was a student at neighboring Tuskegee University from 2011 through 2015. She attended services with me, and I’ll admit I was as giddy as a teenager on a first date on my initial visit.
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Dexter King Memorial Baptist is a typical, traditional church, but for me, more than that, it has such an incredible legacy. The last time I was there, I met Miriam Thomas Norris, a trailblazer African-American female journalist, former news co-anchor, and reporter for WTVD-11 from 1982-2001.
Miriam grew up in Dexter King Memorial, and Dr. King hired her mother as the music minister in 1955. Her mom was still playing the organ in 2015, and she had the church rocking that Sunday morning playing Dottie People’s gospel spiritual: “He’s an On-Time God!”
How can we celebrate the King National Holiday during the pandemic? We can't meet safely in some instances, but there are many virtual opportunities locally and nationally. Although there are many cancellations of events, we can still reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and purpose, which involves a personal commitment to service, equality and peace.
Most importantly, the King National Holiday is the only federal holiday Congress also designated as a national day of service – “a day on, not a day off.“
Troy Williams is a member of The Fayetteville Observer Community Advisory Board. He is a legal analyst and criminal defense investigator. Williams also does a weekly podcast, RUD:Educate, with Fayetteville City Councilwoman Tisha Waddell and former N.C. Rep. Elmer Floyd. He can be reached at email@example.com.