I love this picture, but every time I post it, a thought skitters along the side of my pride.
Would I have stood hand in hand with Fr. Hesburgh and MLK at that civil rights rally in 1964?
I love this picture because it makes me feel good about racial justice. Fr. Hesburgh, a man I greatly admire, represents two aspects of my identity: Notre Dame and Catholicism. I love this picture because it makes me feel as if I have done something, but, in truth, I have done nothing. Fr. Hesburgh has.
Again, I have to ask myself, would I have been there?
If I’m being honest, probably not. I have spent my life embodying the “white moderate” MLK speaks of in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
A white moderate is a person “who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” I have spent my life thinking peacekeeping was the same as peacemaking. I know now that I was wrong.
We will never have peace without justice. This past year has brought to the surface the injustice that black, Indigenous, and people of color face in this country. For some of us, this feels new, but it is not. MLK brought it to our attention 58 years ago in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, yet because white people were not affected, we allowed this injustice to continue.
MLK is a beacon of peace, a man who spoke of a beautiful dream for our country, but in order for his dream to come true, there must be action, particularly by the “white moderate.”
If I’m giving myself the tiniest bit of grace, I can imagine I would have been standing with them had I had been invited. Invitations, especially from people I care about, mean everything to me. Yes, with an invitation, I would have stood hand in hand, supporting civil rights.
Except I shouldn’t need an invitation to push for justice for God’s people.
God’s invitation should be enough.
So, together with God, I invite you today to act. Start by reading MLK’s letter. It’s a beauty.