Sacrifice, Suffering & Struggle

We’ve all heard of Martin Luther King Jr, right? The man who had a dream?

Well, today marks Martin Luther King Jr Day; an American holiday celebrating his birthday and honouring his achievements as a prominent leader in a peaceful struggle for civil rights.

No doubt Twitter is ablaze with #MLK, #HappyMLKday and #Imabelieber conversation threads trending quite well (the latter being irrelevant). No doubt users are being barraged with images, quotes and memes in honour of the great man.

This is the way history remembers Martin Luther King; an inspirational leader, a positive, fearless, forward thinking activist and a martyr to his cause. The world is a better place for having had him in it.

But as we reflect on King’s life I’d like to offer a quick thought, based not in celebrating his many achievements but in acknowledging how they were achieved.

We forget all too often that his struggle wasn’t pretty. Change never is.

King was shot dead on April 4th 1968.

Standing on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee a single bullet went through his cheek, shattering his jaw and lodging in his spine. It was a fatal blow and he died within an hour. He was 39 years old.

King was under no illusions about how some people viewed his struggle. He had campaigned on the issue of black civil rights for 13 years, during which time he’d been arrested and beaten on countless occasions. He and his young family spent nearly two decades under the constant threat of death. In remembering King and people like him we often gloss over just how much his struggle cost, for him and many others.

The post-mortem on King’s body revealed that his heart health was comparable to that of a man 20 years his senior, attributed to the stress and strain of the civil rights movement.

He wasn’t putting himself through this to get famous. He wasn’t trying to bolster his CV so he could get a better job and he wasn’t seeking his fortune. He was a man on a mission to tackle a grave injustice in the world and ultimately it cost him everything.

And herein lies the challenge for me; taking a stand against injustice is difficult. It’s so difficult that it will have a price. As King himself said: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Whether our struggle is in seeking equality, challenging tyranny or demanding representation it’s important to look to the past and learn that progress has a price.

As people challenging the scourge of world poverty the task ahead often seems impossible but let’s be encouraged that people have faced down injustice before and ultimately they’ve won. Take heart in the sentiment that “The hope of a secure and liveable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr Day!