Fulwider 1-16-2011

My Word: King championed all rights

Fulwider, Bryan(Orlando Sentinel, January 16, 2011)

By Bryan Fulwider

As Americans celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. this month, most of the speeches in his honor are focusing on his achievements in the realm of race-based civil rights.

And so they should. King was the right person, at the right time, with the right message and the right approach to advance the cause of African-American equality further and faster than many would have dreamed possible.

In great measure, this happened because of his vision, tenacity and wisdom. To borrow imagery from another writer: He struck while the iron was hot. He made the iron even hotter by striking. And he had an uncanny sense of how to harness momentum.

As impressive as King’s civil-rights legacy is, there’s still work to be done. Overt discrimination is far less apparent these days. But a variety of prejudices still simmer beneath the surface. We likewise need to remember that King’s vision of a just society didn’t stop with civil rights.

One example: The legal right for a black person to eat at any restaurant — granted by the civil-rights acts of 1964 and 1965 — was essentially useless if economic factors placed ordinary eating establishments outside the reach of many blacks. And abject poverty was by no means limited to blacks. Large numbers of poor whites were equally desperate for a leg up.

King became an increasingly outspoken critic of the war in Vietnam. As long as money was being thrown at the war, he reasoned, there would never be appropriate funding to help the downtrodden at home. He decried a government that would appropriate “military funds with alacrity and generosity” but that appropriated funds to help the most needy “with miserliness.”

He argued that “true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Part of that restructuring, King contended, must include equal treatment of women. His social vision was more far-reaching than many realize.

This evening when the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, in cooperation with the office of Orlando’s mayor, hosts the city’s annual interfaith candlelight march and celebration to honor King’s legacy, the theme of Imam Muhammad Musri’s speech at Shiloh Baptist Church will be: “The time is always right to do what is right.”

King spoke those words. Moreover, he gave substance to them by fighting not only for the cause of those with whom he had a racial affinity, but by fighting for justice and equality for all humans, in all circumstances, everywhere — because it’s the right thing to do.

That’s a quality worth celebrating. And emulating.

Bryan Fulwider is senior pastor of the First Congregational Church of Winter Park and chair of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.