Martin Luther King Jr. would be ninety years old this month, which means he was only thirty-nine when he was assassinated in 1963. That’s not a lot of time to accomplish all he did, not only for African-Americans, but for Native Americans as well.
The United States will commemorate Martin Luther King Day on January 21.
I had never read the full text of King’s famous speech, made just before the civil rights march he led on Washington in 1963. I decided to look it up and do more than merely skim it. I expected to find most moving the lines we’ve all heard, the oft-repeated ones like “I have a dream” or “let freedom ring.” Instead, what struck me most was this bit from somewhere near the middle of the speech:
“…many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”
Nearly sixty years have passed since King delivered those powerful words. But, while many things have improved, racism still runs rampant—on our streets and in our hearts. It’s easy for us here in Portage la Prairie to shake our heads at our neighbors to the south and wonder how they could be so blind. So misguided. So ignorant. Meanwhile, Indigenous Canadians continue to experience prejudice every day in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. New Canadians understand what it’s like to be viewed as less-than. To take jobs for which they are overqualified because it’s all they can get.
Racism hurts a country. It maims a town. It destroys communities. And it resides in every one of our hearts on some level, if we’re honest. Whatever color your skin.
Our community, I’m told, is approximately one-third First Nations people. So wouldn’t it seem logical that when I attend a fundraiser, when I observe a Council meeting, when I go to church, when I hear a youth choir, when I show up at my community theater group’s regular meetings, when I watch a sporting event—wouldn’t it seem logical that one third of the people participating in that community event would be First Nations?
Logical, but far from true.
I’m grateful our City hired an Indigenous Community Coordinator whose role is to help give the First Nations citizens of Portage la Prairie a voice. I’m thankful my country opens its doors to immigrants. I’m pleased our government decided to honor Viola Desmond by making her the first Canadian woman to appear on a bank note…and sad that she’s not around to see it. I’m glad my church made one of its key goals and prayers to become one-third First Nations.
Why has Prairie Alliance Church made this so specific? Because not only do we desire to accurately reflect our larger community, we want to help bring God’s Kingdom to earth, like Jesus taught us to pray. The book of Revelation gives us some pretty colorful images of what God’s Kingdom looks like:
“I looked again. I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages. And they were standing, dressed in white robes and waving palm branches, standing before the Throne and the Lamb and heartily singing: ‘Salvation to our God on his Throne!’”
The bottom line is, I know my heart needs to soften and grow. And that can’t happen when I close myself off from people of different backgrounds. My destiny is tied up with their destiny. My freedom is inextricably bound to their freedom.
And so is yours.