MLK at 90: An urgent call to action

On Jan. 15, 1929, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta. By 1954, he was the leader of one of the greatest movements for freedom in history. A push for equality and justice for African Americans that became the model for other liberation struggles around the world. But King’s assassination in 1968 change the trajectory of the social justice movement he led forever.

The people who worked with King, a mass of ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions all across the South brought the United States closer to the ideals espoused in its founding documents, carried on without him as best they could. Now, 90 years after his birth and with President Trump in the White House, the veterans of the movement are worried.

Worried about the erosion or reversal of the hard-fought gains of the last 50 years. Worried that the lessons they learned will be forgotten. Worried that time is running out for them to pass on their knowledge, encouragement and support to the next generation of leaders. Worried enough to convene an incredible gathering the first weekend of 2019 at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, Calif. That I was asked to participate in this remarkable assembly called by Clarence Jones, King’s personal attorney, will remain one of the true honors of my life. The gathering was the launch of the Gandhi King Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice, which is based at the University of San Francisco and co-founded by Jones and Jonathan D. Greenberg, a lecturer in law at Stanford University.

Jones’s invitation expressed the urgency that he and the veterans feel. “This project is for me the expression of ‘the fierce urgency of now’ — in terms of the moral emergency we are facing as a democracy. At a deeply personal level, I increasingly face the reality that at 87, 88 in Jan. 2019, I only have a limited amount of time and energy remaining to make as impactful a contribution as I can possibly make. I have so much more to do in furtherance of Dr. King’s life’s work and legacy.”

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