Where is Dr. King’s call for ‘community’ today?

Recent tragedies mobilized individuals of all hues against injustice


There are several definitions for the word “community” according to Webster’s sec_mlk-portraitDictionary. They include “a unified body,” “people with common interests,” and “society at large.”

These definitions seem to get at what the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once referred to, first in a speech at a church conference in Nashville, Tenn. in December 1962, and then reiterated a few months later in a published article he wrote for Religion and Labor in May 1963.

All humankind is part of a community, wrote Dr. King. “At the heart of all that civilization has meant and developed in “community,” King points out, “is the mutually cooperative and voluntary venture of man to assume a semblance of responsibility for his brother… Man could not have survived without the impulse which makes him the societal creature he is.”

Tragic incidents in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland and elsewhere in 2014 have joined together Blacks and other people of color, as well as non-people of color, to loudly protest for change, for full respect of all in areas of justice in America. Do the emergence of these protests in the streets and public places of America serve as a cry for what the late Dr. King often suggested — assuming a responsibility for our brothers?

University of Minnesota Vice President for Equity and Diversity Dr. Katrice Albert points out, “Dr. King’s words continue to be relevant [today]; 2014 saw a tremendous response from communities to the deaths of countless Black people across the nation, including Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Our communities — on the University of Minnesota campus, in the Twin Cities and the state, and across the nation and world — have mobilized under a common call of #BlackLivesMatter, and have developed a collective voice to address our nation’s criminal justice system.”

Lenny McAllister of Pittsburgh [Pa.] Cable News Channel adds that Dr. King’s vision of “community” has always existed, especially among Black people, but is not always fully recognized in America. “There was a common sense of struggle due to common legal conditions, common living conditions [e.g. redlining], and common economic conditions,” he explains. “Because of this bond, there was a tie that allowed the community to work together more efficiently and more effectively. There was a greater responsibility to ‘assume a semblance of responsibility for his brother.’”

Local community activist Spike Moss argues, however, that when speaking of community, Blacks today are “like a lost people,” and that any sense of community seems to him to no longer exist.

“As long as there is a significant level of discrimination that highlights the history of slavery and animus that Blacks in America have endured,” argues McAllister, “there will be a need for African Americans to maintain an understanding that incorporates cooperation and common vision among us.”

Albert says that the University’s “long legacy of equity and diversity initiatives” is worth noting, but admits, “We still have work to do…to ensure that the U of M is a place where all are respected, engaged and able to thrive whether students, staff, faculty or administrative ‘communities.’ I say ‘communities’ because while we are all affiliated with the University of Minnesota, there are multiple communities that contribute to the success of our institution on a daily basis, just as in the Civil Rights Movement there were many communities of Black people [and allies] working together in the service of a common cause,” says Albert.

Finally, as we once again celebrate Dr. King’s legacy in a few days, his words should be used as today’s blueprint for building and sustaining a community that includes all Americans of every race and ethnicity.

“It is not an ‘either-or,’ it is a ‘both-and’ undertaking,” advises Dr. King, adding that “when every human being is recognized as such, ‘Whiteness’ and ‘Blackness’ pass away as determinants in a relationship and ‘son’ and ‘brother’ are substituted. The worth of an individual does not lie in the measure of his intellect, his racial origin or his social position.”

Albert notes that Dr. King’s message reminds her of an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

“Just as Dr. King didn’t achieve transformation in isolation, each of us as individuals is strengthened by the efforts of our partners in action,” Albert concludes. “When we harness the gifts and talents that are present in our greater communities, we further our possibilities to make lasting change.

“Together, we will address these and other grand challenges here in Minnesota and in our diverse and changing world.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.