While we reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy, 2014 will stand as a watershed year for a civil rights awakening that is both sad and hopeful.
Sad because racial disparities continue to rise despite Dr. King’s call for all people to come together understanding we are all one human family – children of God. Schools, child services, police and courts continue to suspend, expel, remove from their homes and punish people of color disproportionately by ranges from 200% to even 1200% more than white people.
Police action shootings and recent grand jury decisions bring attention to these disparities sparking a younger generation to wake up to these injustices realizing they could no longer say we are in a post racial society and that the civil rights movement was their parents’ and grandparents’ fight.
Hopeful because many people recognize we must address these problems. Our institutions are reflections of our history and cultural so we must know how we got to this place to be able to change things.
Fear is a powerful force. Our country’s dark history of slavery used fear as an economic tool. Imagine the mindset of slave-holding plantation owners – every night wondering if their prisoners would rise up at night and overpower them. Worried that their slaves would flee, the myth of the runaway dangerous slave who would rape white women was created to turn non slaveholders into fearful participants in a community of people committed to perpetuating violence and difference.
Not until the 1950’s and 60’s did our country’s laws and customs start changing to integrate black people into our society – meaning that we are a mere 50 years into this cultural evolution. There are two generations among us who lived before our country’s laws were changed.
But laws and regulations don’t necessarily change hearts and minds. This subconscious fear of the other must be dealt with if we are to move beyond current tensions. We must dispel of myths that drive wedges between people. Focusing on differences and ignoring our similarities keeps us from the peace we all desire.
Research shows that racial disparities and disproportionality will be reduced when we dialogue and build skills to live in a multicultural society that promotes equity and justice. In New Zealand, all teachers and youth professionals and trained in “cultural safety” the concept that each child has a right to feel safe and secure and their culture will be respected at their schools and communities.
In Indianapolis, leaders like Pat Payne at Indianapolis Public Schools and Cindy Booth at Child Advocates lead efforts to end racism through education. Peace Learning Center helps schools, businesses, neighborhood and faith groups learn diversity and social justice skills through a variety of workshops and programs at Eagle Creek Park and in the community.
It is time to face our fears and have difficult conversations for the sake of our future. Learning to address our fears and build hope will reduce violence and increase kindness – is that what we all need?
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King
Executive Director and Cofounder
Peace Learning Center