San Jose Peace & Justice Center
mlk_birthdaySpeech delivered at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration, MLK Library, San José, 14 January 2010

By Sharat G. Lin

It is a great honor for me as a member of the community and representing the San José Peace and Justice Center and its 19 partner organizations to be here today in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.

While Dr. King was most well known for his leadership in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement that gave hope to African Americans in the struggle for equality and social justice, it is a pleasure to see here today the great diversity of San José. The struggles for the human rights of Latino immigrants, freedom from racial profiling of Vietnamese Americans, the right to health care for every American, ending war, are all struggles that Dr. Martin Luther King would embrace.

Just days ago I was in Cairo, Egypt. Over 1300 global citizens had planned to walk inside the Gaza Strip to the apartheid wall that hermetically seals Gaza off from the rest of the world. But instead of the apartheid wall, we were stopped by the Egyptian blockade from even reaching Gaza. So we marched in Cairo. Protest marches are banned there. But we marched anyway in an act of non-violent civil disobedience. The police surrounded us, beating some into bloody faces. But they could not silence our non-violent cries for freedom and justice for the people of Gaza.In many ways it was much like the marches of Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. The dreams, the hopes, and the struggles go on ... in a hundred countries, in a thousand movements, in a million voices, and in a billion hearts of the voiceless.

It was as a youth in India that I first heard the words of Dr. Martin Luther King put into a Hindi song. It begins like this: "हम होंगे कामयाब, हम होंगे कामयाब एक दिन ।" ("We shall overcome, we shall overcome some day.")

This is the Dr. Martin Luther King that most Americans know about. But Dr. King was more that just a dreamer hoping that America would someday overcome inequality and prejudice. In the year before he died, Dr. King began speaking out against the Vietnam War and the policies of the U.S. government that produce and sustain inequality, poverty, and disinformation.

In one of his less well-known speeches, Dr. King elaborated on his dream. He said, "We shall overcome ... because no lie can live forever." That speech, given on 11th August 1967 should not be so obscure. You won't find it on the Internet. It was not given to some small private gathering. No, it was given to the National Association of Radio Announcers meeting in Atlanta.

If Dr. King were alive today, he would understand why lies were told to send our youth to war in Iraq and Afghanistan; why POWs were renditioned to Guantánamo, Bagram, and elsewhere; why health care will not be a universal right; why banks will be saved but not schools. Dr. King was not merely a dreamer. He fully understood the systemic obstacles to racial equality, freedom from oppression, social justice, and peace. Today we have the first African American president. Yes, we have made progress, but Dr. King's dream is still a work-in-progress.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. presente!


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