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Community Impact Fellow reflects on Martin Luther King, Jr. – The Morning Call – January 15, 2018

America continues working on King’s dream

Rev. Larry Pickens

In 2018, we mark 50 years since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, in Memphis, Tenn.

Our nation and the world have seen great change in the expanse of these years, as we have witnessed many historic and earth-shattering events: The Vietnam War ended, a sitting president resigned from office, and another was impeached.

The Berlin Wall came down, apartheid in South Africa was dismantled — leading the way to political prisoner Nelson Mandela becoming president after 27 years of imprisonment — and the United States elected its first African-American president.

King would be overwhelmed by these developments. However, the reality is that we have much more work to do to bring King’s dream of affirming the dignity of all people into reality. He would urge us to continue the work toward building a “beloved community.”

In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King wrote: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

Recently I read a story that provides a poignant, contemporary example of this network of mutuality. This past week, it was reported that U.S. hospitals are facing a shortage of intravenous bags as cases of the flu are accelerating.

The shortage is creating a major crisis, forcing hospitals to halt elective procedures and clinical trials. The availability of IV bags has plummeted primarily because Baxter International Inc., which produces the bags in Puerto Rico, had its factories taken offline by Hurricane Maria.

In a sense, the national inability to address the infrastructure damage in Puerto Rico is having a direct impact upon the health care delivery system throughout the United States. King’s words still have significance half a century after his death: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”

King was a patriot who understood that our national well-being calls us to invest in each other. Today our charge is to act in bending the long arc of the universe toward justice.

King once said: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” We can all do something as we move forward to make a difference.

The Rev. Larry D. Pickens is ecumenical director of Lehigh Conference of Churches and a Collective Impact Fellow.