Dr. King and the art of interruption


February is Black History Month and, arguably, no place is richer in that history than the Lowcountry. For millions of Americans, it's the place where American black history began.

On MLK Day in January, I was honored to deliver remarks at Hilton Head Island's celebration. Because the words and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are timeless and timely in their wisdom, passion and compassion, and since his place in American history is of paramount importance, allow me to share with you my remarks from that day.

Think about the last time you were interrupted, no matter how trivial or profound. Some interruptions are welcome, others perhaps not. Today, I've come to encourage you to go ahead and interrupt. Your parents probably instructed you not to, and maybe you've passed that etiquette along to your own children.

But there are most assuredly times when interruptions are desirable, even necessary. Interruptions can be a catalyst for change. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose unmatched life and legacy we celebrate today, was no stranger to the art of interruption.

On this day, we recognize that Dr. King wonderfully interrupted the history of the United States of America. We rejoice that this interruption is now celebrated here and around the world.

Yes, he interrupted. Dr. King interjected into our consciousness his most noble and excellent life goal - that of achieving a Beloved Community. It's a place of agape love - a society of justice, peace and harmony achieved through nonviolent action.

Where would we be now, had that interruption not occurred? Surely much further from the goal than we are. The results of the Civil Rights Movement would likely have been different, perhaps muted, absent or marked as an even more violent period in American history.

Dr. King said so himself in his April 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail": "If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood."

The non-violent actions employed by Dr. King and those who labored alongside him interrupted complacency, apathy and ignorance. This brilliant strategy revealed an underlying tension and made uncomfortable those who knowingly or unknowingly allowed oppression and injustice to exist.

Sights and sounds of the terrifying and violent response to these non-violent marches and protests flooded the media. They invaded the hearts and minds of those who watched and listened. Everyday life was successfully interrupted, and the evil practices of the status quo were revealed. Outrage and empathy needed to force change were finally ignited.

And today, just as we celebrate the life and work of Dr. King, we also remember and mourn the murderous interruption of it. The systemic injustices he so desired to eradicate for the benefit of all of mankind, and the hatred and misunderstanding that undergirded them were clearly illustrated in the abrupt end to his life.

This tragic event galvanized the world to the truth: racism and hatred did and do undeniably exist. Evil thrives in the absence of constant and purposeful work to reveal and defeat it. Dr. King was clear. Whenever and wherever injustice exists, it's time for an interruption.

I'll close with these words, again from Dr. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail":

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."

Isn't now the time to do what's right? I urge you, my friends, as I urge myself, to review and rehearse the good work of Dr. King and where appropriate, go ahead and interrupt.

David Bennett is the mayor of the Town of Hilton Head Island. DavidB@hiltonhead islandsc.gov. Visit www.MayorDavidBennett .com to sign up for the mayor's email.

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