Reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

Over the past few weeks, I have been pondering the unjustified deaths of 2020 and the protests for equality and justice for Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC).

As I looked back, my recollection of images displayed like scenes from a movie, shifting from one horrific story to another, and then to an even more outrageous tale of unjustified abuse and murder. We saw the “Karens” of this nation come out in full force to demonstrate the power of white privilege. Nevertheless, BIPOC and allies endured and continued to fight the good fight against racial injustices. I had hoped with the coming new year, we would start to see the slow crawl of change to race relations in America.

Nothing prepared me for what was to come in the first week of the new year, 2021.

As I write this, I am still in disbelief of the audacious events of January 6th, 2021—trying to make sense of it all has been challenging.

There were two stories being told on that day:

  1. The failed attempt by a group of individuals seeking to destroy our American democracy.
  2. The disproportionality in equality for BIPOC and whites were painfully unveiled, and it further confirmed the ongoing plight of BIPOC in America.

Watching people desecrate the Capitol turned my stomach into knots.

Those knots became more pronounced as I saw those insurrectionists try to destroy democracy for their selfish gains. As the knots continued to multiply, I saw images of an individual walking through the halls of the Capitol proudly waving a Confederate battle flag.

At one point, I could feel the intense discomfort of lumps forming in my throat as I watched images of gallows with a noose being erected on the Capitol grounds. The continuous images of people wearing and displaying horrid signs and symbols of racism, Nazi’s, white supremacy, and other extremist groups was another added knot to my already twisted stomach.

Perhaps the ultimate twisting, that would have had me on a surgical bed, were the images in my overly-saturated mind — the treatment received by peaceful protestors during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests compared to how the white insurrectionists that overpowered their way into the Capitol were treated. 

As a Black person, I know without a doubt, that if those were BLM protestors attempting to do what those rioters did the narrative would be completely different.

The show of force and restraint exhibited that day on the Capitol grounds was gut- wrenching to the core. The feeling of revulsion had me in tears because I did not want to believe the messages that were plainly being broadcast to our nation and the world.

It unapologetically, and indisputably, confirmed the fact that in this America, your skin color will either be a cause for perpetual harm and murder, or it will afford you the right of “privilege” that will continually protect you at any cost—even in treasonous and criminal acts.

Additionally, it demonstrated that there is less value placed on the lives of BIPOC as opposed to our white citizens. Furthermore, it reminded some that BIPOC will always be second-class citizens in the eyes of racist and extremist groups that continue to poison our nation.

Unfortunately, it told our children – who were watching the events unfold– that not all people are created equal because as it stands today, your skin color will continue to be a barrier to the rights that should be afforded to all citizens of this country.

Granted, these messages have always been present, hiding in the shadows, but seeing it broadcast clear as day was a different kind of hurt.

As a veteran, it bruised my soul to watch a group of American citizens attempt to destroy our democracy, the very thing that men and women in uniform fought and died protecting. It was hurtful witnessing the level of hatred that these people had in their hearts for BIPOC. However, the most damage incurred was delivered via familiar faces that sought to continuously excuse or give explanations to the behaviors of those egregious groups partaking in the insurrection.

As I pondered through my thoughts over the last few days, I was reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” His retort to the critics, and his account of the condition of the nation continue to resonate with me to this day.

Dr. King's Momumnet in Washington D.C.I have read and reread his letter a few times within this past year, and so much of the content in that letter is proving relevant at this moment. In 1963, Dr. King was placed in prison for peacefully protesting against the injustices of Black people. In the start of his letter, he writes:

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states . . . 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.”

The BIPOC community cannot fight these racial injustices and inequalities on our own. It will require a mutual commitment and effort by those that stand against the pernicious influences of racism and its effects. We must campaign against racial injustices and hold our friends, family and others accountable for their role in perpetuating racism — should it be witnessed by our eyes and ears.

Dr. King’s letter describes the numerous injustices that were occurring in Alabama at the hands of the oppressors.

“Racial injustice,” he says, “engulfs this community . . . the ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. The unjust treatment of Negroes in the court is a notorious reality . . .these are hard, brutal and unbelievable facts.”

It is now 2021, and unfortunately, these injustices continue to plague our society today. As a nation, we have watched countless videos of BIPOC children, men and women dying at the hands of police brutality or racist people. What will it take for us, as a nation, to eradicate the driving force of these heinous crimes?

As I read further, the reverberation of this section (of the letter) attest to the numerous protests I saw in recent years. It states:

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such a creative tension that a community that has constantly refuse to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so, to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored . . .  there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth.”

“There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they can experience the bleakness of corroding despair.” -Martin Luther King , Jr.

Over the years, we have observed numerous athletes take a knee in peaceful protest of racial inequalities and discrimination of BIPOC. They were criticized and labeled unpatriotic. When BLM protestors rallied peacefully against the injustices on BIPOC, the critics mocked and tried to dismiss their cause while spewing hateful speech toward those that would be so bold as to demand equality and justice for all. The ongoing actions and protests for equality and justice are finally forcing a level of “creative tension” in America. It is making America address the issue it has so continuously swept aside. Now, let’s hope that this “constructive nonviolent tension” leads to true progress.

Friends, if you have not read Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham”, I implore you to do so.

It will give you some insight and understanding to the very struggles that have plagued BIPOC. Hopefully, we all can learn from Dr. King’s accounts and try to find common ground with those that would seek to do us harm.

Most importantly, my hope is that we can all find and practice agape love for one another despite our circumstances and current environment.

If we persevere and continue our persistence in the fight against racial injustice and inequality, we can make this country better for our children and their children— so that they will never have to experience January 6, 2021 again —or endure racism of any kind.



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