A friend sent me a copy of a beautiful and remarkable speech made by his 17 year-old daughter, Clare, to her school last Friday. With permission from Clare and her father, I reprint it here along with her photo.
It is an honor to be invited to speak briefly on behalf of myself and my family about Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, one the greatest Americans ever born. The fact that our country celebrates a national holiday in remembrance of such a leader, legend and liberator of freedom is a clear recognition of how great a man he was.
Racism is no longer as blatantly obvious on the surface of our society as it was during the 1960â€™s when Dr King was alive. Today, it lies underneath the surface, always disguised and undiscussable. If I were to ask you if you are racist, you would probably answer that you are not. I could direct this question to any of us in this gym, whether you are white, Africa-American, Latino, Asian or any other ethnicity. To understand racism today, we need to look underneath the surface because no matter who we are, we all feel feelings about people who are different than us. The problem is not that we feel differently about others but that we are afraid to admit to ourselves that we feel differently.
This lack of insight leads to unconscious behavior. Often, I, as well as others, do not take the time to think back to the roots of where our feelings come from. It is so important to know what our feelings are and where they come from because that is how we can learn to change. If you do not know what you feel, you are likely to act unconsciously. Unconsciousness breeds fear and fear breeds hate.
Racism, sexism, homophobic behavior and any other forms of discrimination sprout from peopleâ€™s fear of difference. This behavior and discrimination is no longer as apparent as it once was but it is communicated daily through our unconscious actions, feelings, jokes or hurtful words towards others. Just walking down the halls at our school you can hear people using sexist or racial slurs as the butt of a seemingly harmless joke. This form of unconscious discrimination continues to seep deeper and deeper below the surface of societyâ€™s awareness. It hurts not only the individual, but hurts all of us as a society. A painful national example of this form of unconscious behavior was seen this past year with the governmentâ€™s inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina victims. No one intended to act with discrimination. But you only had to watch the nightly news to see that most of the victims of Katrina were poor and black and not receiving the aid they desperately needed.
I grew up in an environment that encouraged me to investigate my feelings. My family taught me the importance of reflecting upon my thinking before I acted because they held me responsible for the outcomes of my behavior. We all need to take a look at our own thinking and determine why we think the way we do. Is it because that was how we were raised or because those are our parentâ€™s opinions? Simply questioning your thinking process makes you aware of your feelings and thoughts and allows you to be liberated but this takes maturity, modesty and a willingness to change. We are all scared to search within ourselves because we cannot be sure of what we might find. However, this step is essential for one to change and continue growing.
Martin Luther King is an inspiration to me because he reminds me to carry forward his dream everyday. He called each one of us to join in a brotherhood and sisterhood between all races, ages, genders and all levels of society. His dream makes us believe that the world can be a better place. I believe that such a place can exist because I have seen it, here at our school, when people admitted their faults and learned how even their silliest jokes might actually have hurt someone severely. So, I ask you to join me this morning in renewing our efforts to reflect upon the discrimination and racism within ourselves, within our school community and within our society. Together we can change our community, bring hope to others and begin to create a better world in which our children will not have to suffer or endure the effects of any type of discrimination.
I would like to end with a quote from Martin Luther King,
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
[Poster by Maine Commission for Community Service]