by Kurt Jostes
From time to time, life brings days that are particularly joyful. Today is one of those days for me, and not because it’s a beautiful, green, sunny winter day here in New Orleans.
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was fifty years ago this year that Dr. King shared his Dream with the world. In the half-century since then, we have come a long way. Many laws of our land have been changed; injustices removed, freedom won.
Yet, presciently, Dr. King made clear that 1963 was not an end, but a beginning. Recent events like Hurricane Katrina and policy failures like Pruitt-Igoe have reminded us that working to bring justice and relief to the poor, the suffering and the oppressed is an unfinished task.
Pruitt-Igoe, in St. Louis, was one of the largest government housing projects in the country, consolidating the poor in an area away from more affluent neighborhoods.
In the five years that I’ve worked at Camp Restore, I’ve witnessed a small piece of one of the largest relief efforts in our nation’s history, assisting the poor and those in need who’ve struggled following Hurricane Katrina.
Yet Katrina relief was and is also just a beginning, as Dr. King again foretold:
“On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
“A Time to Break Silence,” at Riverside Church”
The source of my particular joy this afternoon comes from the growing number of young college students and recent graduates who have taken it upon themselves to leave the “safe” environs of affluent suburbs and communities behind. From suburban streets of beige-hued houses and identical beige Toyotas – like an Andy Warhol painting minus the bright colors – they have moved into and volunteered in our city centers, which for too many for too long have only represented danger, neglect and places you don’t want to run out of gas on the way home from work.
And what have they found? Great food, soulful music, but far more importantly, powerful bonds with new brothers and sisters already hard at work overcoming the effects of concentrated poverty and transforming their communities. Old barriers are being torn down, lines are being crossed, and life is being lived to the fullest here. From this comes my hope for the future of our country, as did Dr. King’s:
With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”