To reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is to consider deeply our human interconnectedness and the world we want to build. Each year on this day, I re-read his extraordinary, elegiac “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to remember his commitment to human equality and the price he paid. I read it to remind myself of the power of idealism grounded in pragmatism. I read it to renew my belief in our individual and collective abilities to help bend the moral arc ever more toward justice.
Nearly everywhere is an uneasy shadow of weariness, a quickening fear of growing divides and violence. We think of Ferguson, of Eric Garner — names that have become shorthand for broken systems, rising mistrust and resentment, fear of the Other. We shudder at blaring headlines and cruel images of terrorism — 17 killed in Paris, 140 innocent schoolchildren murdered in Peshawar, 2,000 people massacred in northern Nigeria — scenes of violence, of bloodshed, of divides crossing lines of race and religion and class. We ask how we will transcend. We shake our heads wondering what can be done.
Dr. King’s life is a reminder to seek light in darkness, to be the change itself. In this, I find much room for optimism around the world in young men and women equipped with both skills and moral courage, daring to do what is right, not easy. I see this not only in the marches and protests, but also in the actions of courageous individuals in every country who refuse to allow their societies to “live in monologue rather than dialogue.”
I think of Mohammed Ali, President of Roshni Helpline in Karachi, a nonprofit leader I recently met who works tirelessly to find and protect children, including those who have been captured and trafficked. I think of Gilbert Gatali, CEO of KZ Noir, a company working to impact the lives of smallholder coffee farmers in Rwanda, many of whom struggle to sustain themselves on a quarter acre of land. I think of Babban Gona, an agricultural company in Northern Nigeria that brings affordable agricultural inputs to farmers who live in rural areas traumatized by Boko Haram. These leaders are motivated by our interlinked destiny. They recognize that the solutions must now correspond to the realities and be drawn from tools of today.
We need new rules and new ways of acting for an economy, indeed a society, that is at once global, diverse and deeply unequal. This will require not only more inclusive policies, but new business models, for corporations and nonprofits, that are needed in equal sums in the new world. It will require more transparent systems, legal and financial, across international borders. It will require technologies developed specifically to solve tough problems of poverty.
We are each other’s destiny.
A connected world without opportunity is a world of risk. It is, in King’s words, one of too many “Somebodies” and “Nobodies.” It is a world vulnerable to the richest, increasingly feeling above the law, and those at the bottom, outside the law. Dr. King had the courage to stand with the poor while speaking for a society that included everyone. He had the strength to speak of a love both powerful and inclusive–and he had the courage and integrity to act.
On this day, to commemorate Dr. King, regardless of who we are or what we do for a living, may we each ask whether our actions are bringing more work, more understanding, more nourishment and more opportunity to those who feel excluded.
For the quality of all of our lives depends on building a world in which our interlinked destiny leads us to ensuring dignity for all.
This blog was originally posted on Huffington Post.