Letter from a Birmingham Jail

As has become my tradition during MLK week each year, I have once again read Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. This time I also read the letter from the white Alabama clergymen that prompted it. It’s unfortunate how relevant this exchange still is today. Here is what I want to reflect on after reading it this year:

  1. In what ways does American society today resemble that of April 1963?
  2. In what ways do I think and act like the white “law and order” clergyman? Have I ever been bothered by “outsiders” pointing out how I and my community still engage in racist practices? How does this attitude inhibit the work of racial reconciliation and justice?
  3. In what ways do I think like Dr. King and others who engaged in civil disobedience? How have I felt about the direct actions in which I have participated?
  4. What promises have I, my community, my institutions or the governments that represent me made to marginalized people that we have not kept?
  5. What laws am I currently bound by that I feel are immoral or unjust?
  6. Have I implicitly or explicitly encouraged marginalized folks to wait or be patient as they push for equal rights?
  7. What will it take to convince the white moderates Dr. King describes that a positive peace is much preferable to a negative peace and that it’s worth actively pursuing?
  8. What racial tensions already exist under the surface in my community? How can they be brought into the light so the healing process can begin?
  9. Which religious traditions and congregations in my community are actively working for the full and equal participation of ALL people in society without exceptions or qualifications? Which non-religious groups are?
  10. Given my talents, relationships, roles, and constraints, how can I best support these efforts? (How can I be a “creative extremist” for love?)

By Kevin Daum

Generic anti-oppression contemplative activist. Django development pays the bills.

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