MLK’s precise words inspire action for the common good
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King, April 16, 1963, Birmingham, Ala.
Public spaces, especially those that honor the ideas and accomplishments of exceptional contributors to our democracy, have a big effect on me. So I wasn’t surprised to find myself almost vibrating with renewed determination and commitment to the common good after my first visit to the Martin Luther King Memorial.
I was in Washington on the weekend following the election. Fresh off a very intense campaign, and brimming with renewed hope for progress in building a more just society, I was ripe for inspiration. The one-mile walk from my hotel to the memorial took me past the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, glorious tributes to the best of American history. There, tucked in close to the Tidal Basin, across from the Jefferson Memorial, and next to the rambling FDR Memorial, stands a huge statue of Dr. King surrounded by a grand, granite inscription wall where excerpts from 14 of King’s speeches are etched in stone, memorialized for the ages.
The best communicators—musicians, authors, preachers, artists, teachers—use their respective languages to evoke the essence of what matters. Those 14 quotes demonstrate ever so clearly this man’s earned place in history, based on both his actions and his incomparable capacity to capture, in a few words, essential ideas, deep moral values, and direction for realizing the best of the human condition.
I reviewed each quote several times and recognized one that contributed to my own growth as an activist: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
This is the core idea that helped me, an inexperienced young idealist in the 1960s, know that I had a place in the struggle to contribute to a more just society. It clarified that I did not need to be in the identifiably oppressed class to be a legitimate participant in making change. Activism in support of justice, fairness and equality is not an act of charity—whatever your relative power—because everyone benefits when life is just, and everyone suffers when it is not. This understanding drew me to cherish the concept of the common good and helped me jump in with both feet.
My visit to the Martin Luther King Memorial renewed my appreciation for the brilliance of this wise leader. I try to honor his legacy by keeping the common good in the forefront of my actions.
Susie Kaeser is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, former director of Reaching Heights, and serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools.