Last Monday evening, I wiped tears from my eyes along with others from the Oak Lawn area as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged us to change our question. Do not ask, he chided, “What will happen to me if I stop to help this one?” Rather, he urged, ask: “What will happen to this one if I do not stop to help?”
His words had all the more power because we knew that he spoke them in Memphis in 1968 because he had chosen to ask what would happen to the sanitation workers if he did not come and help. He went to Memphis to help and he went home in a coffin.
Gathered in that little Oak Lawn church as black and white and Asian, young and not so young, clergy and laity, all of us with a deep love for our country and one another, we honored the man who gave his life for his neighbors. We renewed our commitment for the work still ahead, we clapped and sang one another’s songs and we raised the roof as we melded into a single voice on “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
We knew that it was not just about remembering. We knew that our coming together to know each other was itself important. We knew that there is much work still to be done to bring equal opportunity for all and to turn around the growing inequality in America. We knew that work order has our name on it.
It is easier to speak of “that one” or “those people” than it is to come together as one with mutual respect and a common goal. A few small steps of kindness, again and again, is what it takes. A step out to a different church on a cold January night. A step across the street to the neighbor whose culture we cannot yet comprehend. A step up to the ballot box to vote not just what is good for me but what is good for all. One step, then another, then another.
“What will happen to this one if I do not help?” Go through the day with that question guiding you and all your steps will take you where we need to go.