Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and American Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
Excerpted from “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
The eloquent and wise words you just read are excerpted from “Letter From Birmingham Jail” penned by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and American Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his prison cell after he was arrested on 12 April 1963 along with Southern Christian Leadership Conference Activist Reverend Ralph Abernathy and Reverend Frederick Lee Shuttlesworth, an official of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Dr. King along with Reverends Abernathy and Shuttlesworth were among a number of souls participating in the ”Birmingham Campaign,” a series of marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama that began on 3 April 1963. In spite of the 10 April 1963 ruling of Circuit Judge The Honorable W.A. Jenkins which issued an injunction against “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing, and picketing,” a demonstration against racial injustice took place which was led by Dr King and Reverends Abernathy and Shuttlesworth. . Dr. King was prompted to author “Letter From Birmingham Jail” when an ally discreetly presented him with a copy of a local newspaper that published a “Call For Unity” authored by eight Caucasian ministers which took the position that it was not the right time for Civil Rights demonstrations in Birmingham. The eight Caucasian ministers were considered to be moderate members of Birmingham’s Interfaith Community. Yet, in their “Call For Unity”, they characterized Dr. King as an “extremist”, advised African Americans “to be patient,” and warned that Civil Rights demonstrations could incite violence.
“Letter From Birmingham Jail” was not just a response from Dr. King to a critical statement crafted by a group of Birmingham ministers that graced the pages of a local publication. It was the manner in which he unflinchingly conducted his life as exemplified by his daring public opposition to the Vietnam War on 4 April 1967 through a speech he delivered entitled, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence” (https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/beyond-vietnam) at the Riverside Church in New York City. Dr. King unveiled a five point outline for ending the Vietnam War and called for a unilateral ceasefire as he provided a graphic overview of the devastation occurring in Vietnam at the hands of what he characterized as “deadly Western arrogance”. Dr. King’s public stance against the Vietnam War was driven by both his friendship with exiled Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhát Hanh (https://thichnhathanhfoundation.org/biog/2017/8/9/when-giants-meet) and his ability to see an “inescapable mutuality of network” and the many ways in which the United States and Vietnam were “tied in a single garment of destiny.” His decision to allow the universal truth of “being caught up in an inescapable mutuality of network and tied in a single garment of destiny” to govern his actions came with a very hefty price tag. A large segment of the American Civil Rights community along with some of Dr. King’s Caucasian allies which included, but were not limited to, labor unions, the late Reverend Billy Graham, and former United States President the late Honorable Lyndon Baines Johnson along with the news media – The New York Times, Washington Post, and Life Magazine – vociferously expressed their dismay with Dr. King’s public opposition to the Vietnam War. On 30 April 1975, eight years after Dr. King’s call for a unilateral ceasefire and seven years after his untimely death, the Vietnam War ended.
What does it mean to be caught up in the “inescapable network of mutuality and tied in a garment of destiny”? The “inescapable network of mutuality” is about our “connectedness” to one another. Our inability to see, feel, and understand our “connectedness” or our decision to ignore it, does not alter the fact that every entity in the Universe is connected to each other. The “garment of destiny” is our fate – our future – what becomes of us. Our world appears at times to operate from an “upside down” position, yet there are souls among us who emulate Dr. King’s decision to allow the universal truth of being “caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality and tied in a single garment of destiny” to govern their actions. Upon learning of the deadly mass shooting of souls at The Tree Of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that occurred on 27 October 2018, Mr. Wasi Mohammed, the Executive Director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh (www.icp-pgh.org), raised at least US$70,000 in funds for distribution to the survivors of the attack and their families as well as the families of the souls who did not survive the attack. Two Islamic nonprofit organizations – CelebrateMercy (www.celebratemercy.com) and MPower Change (www.mpowerchange.org) — assisted Mr. Mohammed with the fundraising effort. Why? In his interview published in a TIME Magazine article entitled, “Respond To Hate With Love: Muslim Organizations Raise Thousands To Benefit Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Victims” (www.time.com/5437229/muslim-organizatons-benefit-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting-victims/), Mr. Mohammed stated:
Those who were stolen from us by this hateful person were like family. We feel obligated to follow this prophetic tradition on standing up for the Jewish community.
At the same time, the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh issued the following statement:
The Pittsburgh Muslim Community extends our deepest sympathy and condolences to the victims, their families, and all of our Jewish brothers and sisters. We condemn this hate crime unequivocally, and denounce all forms of hatred and bigotry. The Pittsburgh community is our family; what happens to one of us, is felt by us all.
Allowing our thinking and behavior to be driven by the universal truth of being “caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality and tied in a single garment of destiny” moves us to step outside of ourselves, to look at another soul and see our own reflection, and to build bridges that transcend the restrictive boundaries of geography, ethnicity, religion, culture, politics, class, gender, and economics. It is how we turn a world that is operating from an “upside down” position “right side up”.
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