Last year, during Black History Month at my church, there was an interesting question. Was Bryan Stevenson the new Martin Luther King Jr? I don’t know what my response was, but I’m sure it was inadequate. We don’t need another Martin.
We don’t because, while Martin was a powerful speaker and charismatic leader, he did not operate alone. Thousands, nay millions, worked on the struggle for racial equality in the 1950s and ’60s. And in case you hadn’t noticed, the struggle continues.
So we need an actual Bryan Stevenson, who knows what it means to be present when in the midst of despair. And we require a Lonnie Bunch, who had the vision and perseverance to shepherd the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. And we have need of a Stacey Abrams, who is doing the good work of the late John Lewis in getting more black people registered to vote.
But we also must call for those folks who speak out when that racist joke spreads throughout the office. And the people who recognize systemic injustice and work, by education and sharing, towards a more equitable country. And in particular, those who don’t know but are willing to learn. The people who lift up the unknown black artists and musicians and writers are very important.
Boy, do we need people who recognize that the conversation about reparations shouldn’t just reflect the period of enslavement. The economic disparity from Jim Crow, lynchings, and white pogroms was great. The crippling loss of generational wealth from black people being excluded from the housing and education opportunities of the GI Bill arguably may be worse.
We don’t need another Martin. News flash: Martin is dead, and he ain’t coming back. Moreover, the problems of 2021 are not the issues of 1968. OK, some of them are. We’re still fighting against voter disenfranchisement, e.g. But we require the people of today, with 21st-century insight and technology.
Maybe we ALL can be, in our own way, another Martin.