By Carlos Sanvee, World YMCA Secretary General
Two news titles caught my attention this morning. The first was the tragic incident in Jacksonville, Florida, where a racist gunman killed three black people in a store. The second was the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s iconic “I have a dream” speech.
King lived and died for a cause: the cause of justice, freedom and dignity for black people, and for all people. He died for the dream that one day we will indeed be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood; that we will indeed see for ourselves the oasis of freedom and justice; that we will indeed join hands as sisters and brothers.
But I wonder: why were these three people killed at the Dollar Store? What cause led to their horrible deaths? It seems that the reason was simply the colour of their skin. So I can easily imagine that during one of my trips to the US, visiting wonderful local YMCAs where black and white people come together as community, I can be killed in a local store like those three guys just because – in the eyes of the killer – I have the ‘wrong coloured skin’, and that means I don’t deserve to breathe his air.
I can’t begin to find words to express how shocking it is, how cheap and insignificant the lives of black people – of ‘different’ people – have become.
As we mourn the lives lost in Jacksonville and the lives of all those killed because of hatred, we need to reflect on what Martin Luther King was saying, all those years ago.
Four years after that famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, King gave another iconic speech in which he retold the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He called on this world not just to throw coins to beggars, but to ask why they are begging. He asked us not just to address the immediate consequences of hatred, but to walk the full length of the Jericho Road to put right the parts of our societies that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.
Assisting and praying for the victims of prejudice is not enough. We are called to challenge the systems that breed hatred and stupidity.
The quest for the ‘Just World’ of dignity, equity and compassion which is at the heart of YMCA Vision 2030, can only be legitimate and sustained by naming and dismantling all the structures of injustice, and not stopping until we have equal opportunity for all.
Rest in peace Dr King. Rest in peace my brothers and sisters in Jacksonville. If we who survive are to drink deep at the oasis of freedom and justice – of peace – then we have some serious reckoning still to do.