50 years later, the work is unfinished.
This past Wednesday, on the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Jennifer came into our center crying.
Jennifer is working three jobs to provide for her family. She works at two fast food restaurants and cleans a doctor’s office in the evenings. Her husband is in jail on a drug-related charge. Thankfully, Jennifer’s mom helps her care for their two small children, who are 4 and 6.
Jennifer has been holding out for her tax refund because she’s planning to buy a new car to replace the unreliable piece of junk she depends on to get to work. We sat down with Jennifer to help her figure out why the refund hadn’t arrived yet. What we learned is that that entire $7K had been garnished to pay for an old medical bill.
50 years before, on the night before he was killed, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King addressed a crowd that had gathered to march on behalf of sanitation workers in Memphis. The march was part of the Poor People’s Campaign to demand “better jobs, better homes, better education – better lives.”
While he knew of the threat to his life, Rev. Dr. King did not waver in his commitment to the cause and the people. That night, Rev. King grounded everyone in sacred Scripture by reflecting on one of Jesus’ greatest parables, that of the Good Samaritan, and on why the priest and Levite acted as they did.
And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
50 years later, the work is unfinished. The indignity of poverty is still in our midst. In Jennifer’s story, we see challenges that aren’t unique to her situation—we see these same challenges over and over in our work:
- Why does a parent working three jobs still struggle to provide for her family?
- Why does a medical bill from your past rob you and your children of a better future?
- Why are children growing up without a parent because we have criminalized a mental health crisis?
If we do not stop to help Jennifer, what will happen to her?
Today, we recognize that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had an incredible capacity to communicate his vision. He conveyed a picture of a community characterized by justice and compassion in a way everyone could understand both the goal and the sacrifice it would take to reach it. In addition, Rev. Dr. King had the courage to lead a movement to advance that vision. But it is one thing to recognize his contributions, and another to take on the vision and sacrifice as our own. This is when we truly honor Rev. Dr. King. Let us come together and truly honor him!