YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
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January 2017

By Paula Penebaker, President & CEO, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since it was declared a national holiday in 1983, we celebrate the life of
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. every year on the Third Monday of January.

Born on January 15, 1929, Dr. King would have been 88 years old this year had he not been assassinated in Memphis, TN on April 4, 1968 at only 39 years old.

I wonder what he would think of our country, today, how he would respond to issues of our time.

The evening before his assassination, Martin delivered his “Mountaintop” speech to striking garbage workers as a part of his work with the Poor People’s Campaign. Plans were in the works for another march on Washington where poor people would demand (as printed on a flyer for the demonstration) “decent jobs and income” and “the right to a decent life.”

I wonder if a $15/hour minimum wage would be a reality, today had he not been killed.

I believe he would have been heartbroken over the deaths of innocent men, women and children at the hands of men and women who are unsuited for public service in law enforcement, while praying for the safety of their comrades.

In the wake of the murders of Travon Martin, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Dontre Hamilton, et al, he would have supported and encouraged peaceful demonstrations organized by Black Lives Matter and condemned violent reactions like Sherman Park.

To critics, I think he might refer to his Letter from Birmingham Jail wherein he told the clergy to whom he wrote, “You deplore the demonstrations…but did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being…”

Dylan Roof was sentenced to die for the murder of nine black church goers in Charleston, SC. I believe Dr. King would have advised against that decision. When stabbed by a deranged woman in 1958 and after learning of her mental state, he stated, “…I bear no bitterness toward her and I have felt no resentment from the sad moment that the experience occurred…”

Certainly, he would have encouraged mercy on Roof, who himself is surely damaged.

I believe Dr. King would stand with immigrants in their quest for humane immigration policies, speak out against atrocities like Aleppo, discourage our involvement in new wars, and railed against attempts to destroy basic rights like voting rights. In other words, he would be the 21st century version of himself. I think he would be appalled that a man (more than a few people have) described as a modern-day segregationist is situated to become US Attorney General.

Certainly, we have experienced great change and made positive strides in civil rights in our country in the 51 years since his death.

Let’s commit to be vigilant in our protection of the things he worked so hard for during his short life.

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