“We’ve got some difficult days ahead.”
When Martin Luther King uttered these foreboding words on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple church in Memphis, it’s doubtful that many present grasped their depth of meaning. In spite of the overwhelming sense of danger that hung like a dark cloud over the man, the movement and the moment, few could have imagined what the very next day would bring.
I believe that what was true then is true today. We’ve got some difficult days ahead.
Dr. King’s words were prophetic then. Today, they have much to teach us. First, King’s honesty is an example for many in leadership roles today. The overflow crowd in that sanctuary was living through dark times. The temptation for many might have been to lessen the darkness by focusing on the bright side. Some might have hurried to sing “We Shall Overcome” or offer words of encouragement.
But true leadership demands truthfulness. There are too many in elected, appointed, and volunteer positions who downplay, inadequately inform, and blatantly lie to advance self-serving and political agendas.
Second, King’s words represent a call to continued sacrifice. Any advances experienced by the people in that room and the communities they represented had come at great cost. There had been, was then, and would continue to be the need for personal and collective sacrifice. As the late Ronald Walters, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, wrote, “The difference between a moment and a movement is sacrifice.”
If the movement that has continued from that fateful night until today is to progress in the face of current challenges, sacrifice will be required. Make no mistake, moving beyond the ugly and sometimes fearful realities we see on a daily basis will demand something from each of us and all of us. Maintaining the status quo, comfort, or illusion of well-being for self or community is not an option.
Finally, Dr. King’s words bespeak the need for persistence in the face of adversity and strident opposition. The people in that church on that night lived under a cloud of uncertainty and threat. But those who sat in those pews in Memphis moved forward with a dogged determination that contributed to the opportunity and privilege so many of us enjoy today.
Today, history repeats itself. Once again, we live under a cloud of uncertainty and threat, this time orchestrated by those in the highest offices in the land. How will we respond today? How committed are we to the enduring struggle for justice and equity? How far down the stony road will we travel?
Be certain of this, we will answer these questions, one way or another. There is no alternative, because we’ve got some difficult days ahead.
nonprofit leader, MetroMorphosis