I remember the nuns of St. Bernadette speaking glowingly about a Baptist minister who preached against racism and for civil rights. As an idealistic grade schooler, I listened to every word the good sisters had to say and grew up admiring the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It wasnt until high school that I heard about his Communist associations. The insinuations came from the John Birch Society, and I became a conservative. I never became a racist, and yet my worst fears were confirmed when Dr. King spoke out against the Vietnam War. He was against fighting Communists overseas, apparently, and had no fear of Communism in our own back yard.
I, on the other hand, enlisted in the United States Army and volunteered to fight the Communists in Vietnam. It didnt take me long to realize my mistake. After four months in DaNang, I joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War, even though I was still in Vietnam and was not yet a veteran. By that time, Dr. King had been assassinated. Ive spent the rest of my life doing penance.
Heres some ideas on celebrating Dr. Martin Luther Kings birthday: tell that person in the office, or the member of your family who tells racist jokes, that you do not appreciate his/her humor. Befriend a member of a different race, creed or background and listen to his/her stories, perhaps over dinner. Write a letter to a business where all the associates are members of the same race and ask them to integrate.
Heres an easy suggestion: attend Rockfords Martin Luther King celebration, 7 p.m., Monday Jan. 16, at St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church, 2919 19th St. Give a generous free-will offering for scholarships.
Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee used to give out discrimination awards to the company or government institution that showed the most discriminatory practices. Among those early winners were the University Club for its discrimination against women (since then revoked); Chief Illiniwek, mascot to the University of Illinois for (a mockery to Native Americans); and Ingersoll Corporation for its discriminatory practices in hiring and promotion.
There are plenty of organizations that still discriminate, and I encourage people to work for the rehabilitation and salvation of those entities. I havent seen any Martin Luther King Day greeting cards, but that might also be fun, especially if you send it to our Congressman, Mayor and state representatives, encouraging them to increase civil liberties and civil rights.
And finally, to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King: pray, work and march against war. Dr. King was right when he said, War is an abomination and that it steals from the poor and needy of this world.
Have yourself a socially significant and meaningful Martin Luther King birthday.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the Jan. 11-17, 2006, issue