We Need Another MLK Jr.

As we are nearing the end of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, MLK Day rolls around once again and while most of us are grateful for the momentary reprieve from the job or the classroom, I wonder how much time we’ll actually take today to “celebrate” the man that Martin Luther King Jr. was.

If you have a second, I’d love to honor this man with you by recalling his activism, his legacy, and then similarly contemplating what he would be fighting for if he were not a victim of 1968’s hate and violence.

photo by DiscoverBlackHeritage on Flickr

Born in Atlanta, GA in 1929, Dr. King was a Baptist minister and civil-rights activist; he practiced nonviolence and believed in engaging in nonviolent protests to push back against the racial inequalities of his day (voting rights, labor rights, and desegregation for African Americans). Dr. King was inspired by the teachings of Quaker groups and also by Mahatma Gandhi, so much so that he visited Gandhi’s Indian birthplace in 1959. In a speech, Dr. King reflected on his trip to India: “Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity.” (The papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1992)

Through nonviolent activism, Dr. King was instrumental in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For his works of nonviolence and humanitarianism about racial prejudice, King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Four years later, Dr. King was assassinated in April of 1968.

If he were here today, I wonder what Dr. King would have said about the fact that slavery still exists on the very land that he fought and died on. I wonder what he would say if he knew that not all citizens shared equal rights today. I can imagine his anger would drive him to speak, protest, and advocate with his every breath.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, so here we are today….celebrating the life of a man who fought injustice in our country, while simultaneously raising awareness that we are not done yet.  We have not arrived. Not all people have rights. Not all people are free.

I don’t think that folks wake up and consciously think: “Today, I’m going to focus on demeaning someone, or say, how about I mix in a little discrimination into my schedule right after lunch?” But I do think silence, passive as it may be, is evil too. Dr. King said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Globally, we estimate there are currently around 27-30 million slaves. US law defines trafficking as: “An ACT or attempted act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person by means of force, abduction, fraud, coercion, purchase, sale, threats, abuse of power for the purpose of exploitation.” In 2011, 85 counties in Tennessee saw trafficking cases, with Nashville nearing the top of the list with over 100 cases of minor sex trafficking and 100 cases of adult sex trafficking. (Here are some more facts)

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Dr. King.

So what can we do in the face of such injustice and inequality? How can we nonviolently fight against violence?

We must look inside ourselves and stop being so afraid of our neighbor because fear causes hate. Then we must persist.

I love what Anne Lamott tweeted recently: “Someone’s already said what you & I are trying to say in our work; and said it better. We can just tell our truest version, in our voices.” I love this because I believe that most of what we write has already been written in the past, but if it’s a voice working for equality, justice, and love, then redundancy is a most precious and necessary thing. Even if we are producing overlapping and redundant words, we must keep persisting. Keep writing, keep speaking, keep advocating. Until all are free, we must not stop.  This is the dream we carry.

To raise your voice against human trafficking in TN, check out End Slavery TN’s website. They do amazing work and I’m so grateful for their advocacy in Tennessee.

For national or international opportunities to end trafficking, check out Not For Sale or International Justice Mission.

4 thoughts on “We Need Another MLK Jr.

  1. Thanks for this, Kate. Very true that Dr. King would be taking up the cause of human trafficking. I am wondering what type of advocacy he would promote to end it? I know that his work in promoting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 lives on, because it is still the standard by which we teach prevention of harrassment & discrimination in the workplace.

  2. That’s a great question! It is a more silent crime and inequality than the blatant prejudice and racial inequality of Dr. King’s day. Still, I feel that he would embrace his beliefs in protesting nonviolently and actively pursuing legislation that would curtail economic benefits and harsher criminal punishments for traffickers. I also believe that he would spend much time raising awareness about this issue based upon his heavily reliance of Civil Rights Movement support through media conduits like newspapers and televisions. Lastly, I suspect he would spend much time educating folks; I hope that he and I would agree that education and dialogue are necessary cornerstones in the pursuit of ending injustice. What do you think?

  3. Much of the activism Dr. King participated in was involved with changing the law. As far as human trafficking goes, it is already firmly illegal but legislation could amend the punishment and curtail the benefits from such a crime. I agree that he would promote awareness. I think he would most probably advocate for more effective means of shutting down the slave market.

    • Yes, very true in that he worked for changing the unjust laws. I’m grateful that ours are just in this sense, but do feel that there is further work to be done in legislating. Thankfully, the TN legislature has come leaps and bounds in the past couple years in passing laws that have dealt blows to the trafficking industry in TN. I wonder if he’d go after institutions that fund trafficking and encourage the objectification of human beings (women in particular).

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