Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In honor of his efforts toward peace and equality, today, we will be discussing elements of peaceful protest, being true to yourself, and the MLK Jr. World Peace Rose Garden in Georgia.
Be aware of your foundational blueprint. As Dr. King said while speaking to Philadephia’s Barratt Junior High on October 26, 1967: “If it is your life’s ambition to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michaelangelo painted pictures. Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and Earth will have to pause and say ‘Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.” (3)
Regardless of what it is you feel called to do, do and be that to the best of your ability. No two people have identical lives, limitations, and strengths, even in the case of identical twins. Be true to yourself and you will be the best version of yourself you can be. That being said, unfortunately, it is sometimes not safe to be your authentic self. As I’ve said before and doubtless will again, make sure you are in an environment that is safe for you. Sometimes, that means selectively sharing information.
Now, if you have been a reader for a while, you might have noticed that when I speak of being yourself and acceptance, it tends to be directed more toward discussions of gender, sexuality, and spiritual identity. This does not in any way mean that the same cannot be said issues of disability or ethnicity, merely that they are not my usual focus as they do not directly impact my day to day life as much. However, all these aspects coalesce into the fully lived experience each of us takes part in, regardless of the variables involved. Each aspect of yourself plays a key role in your overall identity. Depending on the environment you find yourself in, each is also a potential source of disagreement or outright conflict. To quote Dr. King again:
“In your blueprint should be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love, and justice. Do not allow anybody to pull you so low as to make you hate them. Do not allow anybody to cause you to lose your self-respect to the point that you do not struggle for justice. However young you are, you have a responsibility to make your nation a better nation in which to live. You have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody.” (3)
“I believe that we can transform dark yesterdays of injustice into bright tomorrows of justice and humanity. Let us keep going toward the goal of selfhood, toward the realization of the dream of brotherhood, and toward the realization of the dream of understanding goodwill. Let nobody stop us.” (4)
It is important to stand up for what you believe in, both for your benefit and that of the wider community, for that is the only way we progress as a society. If no one pushes the established boundaries, how are they to change position? A wall does not move on its own. It is impacted by movements and shifting in its foundations, objects falling from the sky, or direct assault with tools or other physical impacts. Sometimes, that is necessitated in order to achieve the desired results.
Dr. King was a pacifist, a practitioner of non-violent protest. I will admit, I am somewhat of two minds about that. On the one hand, there are some people whose very language seems to be violence, permeating everything they do and all their interactions with the wider world. If someone such as this was approached in a non-violent manner, the end result would depend on the context of the interaction. I would also argue that there is a difference between defending yourself or someone else in a dangerous situation and seeking to start a fight. Most often those are two different mentalities. While I tend to ascribe to this mode of dealing with confrontation, I also understand the need for non-violence. If someone is predisposed to thinking negatively toward a group you are representing, consciously or otherwise, unprovoked aggression would only fuel that, reinforcing whatever preexisting stereotypes the person has toward those who tend to look/act/sound/etc. like you are currently portraying.
“Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal’” (4). We are at a point in history, uniquely poised between the knowledge of the past and the potential of the future, as every generation has been. I want to live in a world where regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, spiritual or religious affiliation, or any other designation, it is the “content of their character” (4), upon which people are judged. With the current political climate, in the US and abroad, it is important to remember that this is a possibility. It feels like a change is building and getting ready to ignite, though the end result is unsure at present. Be aware of that.
Turning back to our usual topic of botany, symbolism, and metaphor, let us discuss the MLK Jr. World Peace Rose Garden. The garden resides in Georgia’s National Historical Park and exhibits five unique components and attributes interwoven with the beauty of the roses displayed. Firstly, the rose bushes are arranged in a starburst design, illustrating Dr. King’s ideological impact on humanity and the luminescence of his life. Mrs. Coretta Scott King’s (Dr. King’s wife), contributions and continuation of her husband’s work are represented by pink roses at the starburst’s center. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi’s bond and efforts toward peace are represented by bands of white roses in the pattern. All African Americans and their contributions are honored by a band of red roses that weaves through the garden. And there are several clusters of multi-colored roses, representing the world’s nations and Dr. King’s universal message of peace and non-violence (1). The rose is at once strong, beautiful, aromatic, and defended. It has alluring colors and scent but can defend itself with often prominent thorns, if needed. Remember to be true to yourself and treat others with kindness. I would also suggest knowing some self-defense, both physical and verbal.
“If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill, be a scrub in the valley. But be the best little scrub on the side of the reel. Be a bush, if you can’t be a tree. [...] If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be the sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or you fail, be the best of whatever you are.” (5)
Happy birthday, good sir. May the future you envisioned emerge fully during this time of tension and upheaval. Our reality is, by necessity, a dynamic one. It is only through challenge and adversity that advancement can be made.
“Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” (4)
Remember your roots as you grow, keep an eye on your blueprints, so you have some idea of how to build your life to your best benefit, greatest success, and highest joy. Even a step backward is still in motion. Sometimes, a strategic retreat and regrouping is the best course of action. The only true death of ideas and potential is a fundamental lack of movement. Even those held in winter’s stasis hum with life and potential on a cellular level, waiting for the sun’s return. Keep moving, even when it doesn’t feel like you are accomplishing much. If you keep moving, you will eventually reach your goal.
“If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving,” (6).
Be well. Till next time.
Though the origins of this quote are in the Bible’s book of Isaiah, it is a phrase that Dr. King used in several speeches.