At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the comprehensive tour begins in an industrial-sized elevator with glass walls. The elevator operator welcomes the group to the museum and points out the dates painted on the wall on the other side of the glass. As the elevator descends, visitors descend into history, years flashing by until the doors open onto the 15th century and the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. Last Friday I took this descent, starting off a weekend reflecting on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy learning about a historical narrative that continues to be erased in our country. The NMAAHC is intense and thorough, and I barely went through half of the carefully curated exhibits and information. I found reasons to feel hopeful and hopeless, understanding how powerful movements for peace and justice can be, as well as how far we have to go before we truly achieve the kingdom of God on earth.
A couple of days later, I celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday at Northminster Presbyterian Church, one of my work placements this year. Preaching about prophets and dreaming despite the brokenness of our world, Rev. Dr. Gay Byron asserted that God is calling a new generation of prophets, reminding us that each individual has the ability to speak prophetically. Reflecting on her assertion, I see how a new generation of prophetic youth activists are daring to dream of a better world and pushing tirelessly to make their dreams a reality alongside many who have not stopped using their voices since the Civil Rights Era. Still, not everyone is given the opportunity to use their prophetic voice. So many people are oppressed by systemic powers telling them that their voice doesn’t matter or robbing them of their right to express their opinion. If I receive affirmation for my prophetic voice, so should the man returning home from prison, the black child expelled from first grade, and the undocumented woman trying to give her children a safe home. It’s time for our society to prioritize love and dignity for all people over profit, dominance, and fear.
In her sermon, Rev. Gay quoted Dr. King’s famous words from his final speech, “I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” How many people over the centuries have dreamt of a better life for the people they love, and then worked tirelessly to make that dream a reality, by marching, writing, earning enough to send their children to college, or crossing a border? How many of them actually got to see the change they believed would come? I hope that I live to see a radically transformed world, free of racism and xenophobia, sexism, capitalism, climate destruction, and hate in all its forms. But even if I don’t, I know that it’s coming, and like biblical and modern prophets I will use my voice to call for liberation for all to hear, and fight my hardest to bring us as close as I can.