January 15, 2017

Editorial: ‘Tables of brotherhood’ in Worcester

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Martin Luther King Jr.

Sometimes agreement comes slowly, but when the cause is right, agreement comes.

That’s what we celebrate in Worcester and around the nation this long midwinter weekend.

Martin Luther King Jr., whose life was not easy, left a legacy that brings people together. In our city, two traditions in his honor bring folks literally to the table.

The younger ones get first dibs, holding their lively annual breakfast on Saturday of this holiday weekend. Yesterday’s event at Worcester State University was the 23rd Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Breakfast — a feast of poetry, dance, music, speeches and various awards.

Designed to inspire and remind the coming-of-age generation about King’s “philosophy, principles, and goals around nonviolence, unity, equality, and ending racism and discrimination,” according to WSU’s Multicultural Affairs Office, the youth breakfast also showcases the sheer energy and enthusiasm that come naturally to the young. That energy and enthusiasm are delightfully magnified in the atmosphere of equality, inclusion and possibility fostered by MLK’s memory.

The city’s second well-attended tradition in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day happens tomorrow at Quinsigamond Community College.

The 32nd annual Community Breakfast (for which registration has ended) also this year, fittingly, pays tribute to Gail Carberry for her deep dedication to the school and local community, including her support of the annual MLK breakfast. Carberry, president of QCC for 10 years, is retiring this spring.

Both of Worcester’s MLK breakfasts have been around long enough to be taken pretty much for granted. So has the holiday they mark. But Martin Luther King Jr. Day, signed into law by President Reagan in 1983, took time to be embraced in all 50 states. In many ways re-emergences of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s persist to this day.

The recent presidential election, and the “step back” mentioned by President Obama in his farewell speech last Tuesday, also show us what we already know, especially as we get older: Nothing’s for granted.

“For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back,” Obama said in Chicago. He continued, however, in a positive vein that was as needed as it was wise: “But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.”

In the long view, that is, the nation is still on track.

Sometimes, the simplest words become transformative, unshakeable across generations. “I have a dream,” King said in his iconic 1963 speech in Washington, D.C. He repeated it eight times to a massive crowd on the National Mall, most famously in this phrase: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

There was no doubt that his “I” enfolded everyone listening into “We.” King’s dream reawakened America to the work it had been doing, haltingly, since the beginning of this grand experiment in democracy.

We believe he would still be saying today, in some way, that it’s incumbent on each of us — every day — to dream and forge a better America into being.

A lovely but lesser-known phrase from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is “the table of brotherhood.” He also referred to “the solid rock of brotherhood” and to “a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

We’ve been preached to, in the most wonderful way, by him and by other men and women of his ilk — and it lasts.

King was born 88 years ago today, on Jan. 15, 1929. Every four years, the holiday in his honor — the third Monday of January — coincides with presidential inauguration week. Through this small piece of luck, his message of love over hate is reinforced, and it reassures us, at a time of powerful transition.

Donald Trump takes over as president this Friday and, not for the first time, the country holds its breath. Change always comes with anxiety, and this time the leadership change is huge. But we’re all in this country together, and we each have myriad ways to do our part.

Sooner or later, working together, what’s right wins out.

The diversity that seems to terribly divide us sometimes also serves as a source of tremendous strength. America’s foundation is true, and its dream is, too.

That’s something to think about over breakfast, any day.

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