(a speech delivered in housemeeting on Martin Luther King day)
In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Think quietly about that a moment. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (…)
Sharon Draper is a five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King award. In the Humanities 7 class last Friday, I read aloud the 4th chapter of her book Out of My Mind. The story is told from the perspective of Melody, a girl with cerebral palsy who can neither walk nor talk and who is amazingly intelligent. However, when she was five years old, she was examined by a doctor who had absolutely no clue how smart she was. While he asked her questions like “What is this colour?” in a loud, slow-paced, condescending voice, she was reading the titles of Spanish-language books she could see in his room. She was also wondering how, if he was so smart, he thought it made any sense whatsoever to ask questions of someone who couldn’t speak her answers.
Cries of outrage and suggestions of what should be done to the doctor filled our classroom again and again as the examination continued. And when the girl’s mother finally took control of the situation and told the doctor in no uncertain terms why exactly he should be ashamed of himself, the room erupted in applause.
Injustice is everywhere. Ask Melody. Ask anyone who is disabled in some way. Ask girls and women. Ask LGBT people. Ask people of colour. Or people of any number of religions. Or… most anyone. Many of you no doubt thought of your own examples while I was taking a breath to give mine. No doubt, we still have a long way to go before we can say with ringing confidence that we have realized Martin Luther King’s dream that children might “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” No doubt, we also have a long way to go to realize similar dreams concerning abledness, age, gender and gender expression, sexuality, race, religion, and any number of axes of diversity.
And those dreams do exist. If injustice is everywhere, so too is resistance to injustice. It is deep within the human psyche to cry out, “That’s not fair.” and seek out what may be done about it. We realize that, in Martin Luther King’s words, all people “are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” We recognize and understand, again in Martin Luther King’s words, that “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” And time and time again, we choose love. Progress, however slowly, is being made.
We must recognize that progress, for we have the need for hope. But we must also recognize the slowness of that progress, for we have the need for action. The focus of the school’s mission is to elevate girls’ and women’s voices. Use them. Speak out. Live every day of your lives. For as Martin Luther King wrote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
- Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean