Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Thoughts on Independence: Get in the Way

This morning, I heard John Lewis on the radio, talking about how important it was for the current generation to "get in the way." I loved the way he explained the point - that change is made by not standing still and accepting the status quo. Change is made when we get in the way - when we protest, when we sit down in protest, when we march, when we refuse to let things be the way they have always been. We need to be courageous enough to get in the way, the way our founders did.

I couldn't find a transcript of that particular interview, but I found this from a commencement speech a few years ago. Hope you find it as inspiring as I did. Happy Independence Day.

The world is waiting for you, for your leadership, for your vision to help build an all inclusive world community based on simple justice, an all encompassing community that values the dignity of every individual, what I like to call the Beloved Community.

Consider those two words, Beloved Community. Beloved, means not hateful, not violent, not uncaring, and not unkind. And Community means not separated, not polarized, not locked in struggle.

The most pressing challenge in our society today is defined by the methods we use to defend the dignity of all humankind. But too often, as a nation and as a people, we are focused on accumulating the trappings of a comfortable life--the big house, some new clothes, a shiny new car. But if you want a better, more just, more fair society, then you have to find a way to get in the way.

When I was growing up outside of Troy, Alabama and would visit the little town of Troy, visit Montgomery, visit Birmingham, visit Tuskegee, I saw those signs that said WHITE MEN, COLORED MEN, WHITE WOMEN, COLORED WOMEN, WHITE WAITING, COLORED WAITING. On a Saturday afternoon when we would go to downtown Troy to the theatre, all of us little black children had to go upstairs to the balcony. And all of the white children stayed downstairs on the first floor. I would come home and ask my mother, my father, my grandparents, my great grandparents, “Why segregation?!” Why racial discrimination?!” And they would say, “That’s the way it is. Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way.”

But one day in 1955 at the age of fifteen, when I was in the 10th grade, I heard the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. on an old radio, Dr. King inspired me to get in the way, to get in trouble. I got in trouble. It was good trouble. It was necessary trouble to make our country a better place.

My young friends, whatever you care about, whether it’s getting to the truth about what has happened in our own country and around the world. Whether you’re concerned about global warming, or the injustice of poverty, you have to find your passion and make your contribution. You must be maladjusted to the problems and the conditions of today. You have to get off the sidelines and get in the way. Get in the stadium. Go where the action is. You just have to get in the way and make sure your voice is heard. You have an obligation, a mission, and a mandate from all of those men and women who sacrificed before you. Some of them gave a little blood. Others gave their very lives for our democracy.

So you must do your part. You have to find a way to get in the way.

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