Letter From A Birmingham Jail take-away

I write this as I sit in one of my favorite coffee shops on my lunch break. I feel miserable but I figured if I had the strength to check my phone I had the strength to make it into work. 

So my book wish list is exponentially growing and I cannot read as quickly as my desire grows. So I listen to audio books when the opportunity is available. Shout out to my local library making listening to audiobooks affordable (read: free) and convenient. Unfortunatley not all of the titles I want are available on audio, but to my surprise one that was recently added to my list was: Letter From A Birmingham Jail by the one and only Martin Luther King. It’s not really a book, but I came across a list of books read by Ivy League students compared to non Ivy league college students and I was surprised that I actually had never read the whole letter. I knew some of his famous quotes from the letter but didn’t know all of the contents. So I listened to it last week and here’s what I took away. 

MLK talks about the four steps in a non violent protest:

1) Fact Gathering

2) Negotiation

3) Self- Purification

4) Direct Action

Of all the steps two stuck out to me. Fact Gathering and Self-Purification. It interests me because MLK had a very methodolical approach to his efforts. He didn’t go into a city demanding that certain changes be made, and then threatning with marches and sit ins if changes weren’t made. He very clearly made sure he had sufficient evidence that Black people were being oppressed. This gave him leverage when negotiating with political leaders to evidence hard cold facts and a need to uphold the supreme court ruling. Secondly once his negotiations fell through he didn’t immediatley rally people into action. He among the other leaders wanted to know that they had the will power to not strike back and decide how would be best to demonstrate the final step. Self purification this third step is almost glossed over in his letter but it’s an essential piece in his process. And finally after evetything else he would call his supporters into direct action by protesting or marching. 

The other thing from his letter thatreally stuck   out to me is what he writes here:”It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appaling silence  and indiference of the good people who sit around and say “wait on time”. 

That quote really resonates with me. I grew up Catholic and try to practice the religion on a daily basis. One of the pillars of my beliefs is that as a good Christian I must defend the oppressed, widowed and orphaned. Being silent and turning the other way when I can offer help is not the way God wants me to live out his plan. 

So after I finished listening to his last word I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the black lives matter movement. Not only in the power a voice, even as unimportant as mine but in the importance fact gathering, negotiation, self purification and then direct action has in being able to make change. I think to be taken seriously we have to be strong to not fall victim to confirmation bias, but also not grow inpatient and skip essential steps. I know myself in supporting Black Lives Matter I have been quick to side one way without gathering my facts and without determining if there are other steps I can take to help other than being a loud angry voice demanding change. This is not a deep review just a quick overview of my important take aways. Have you read MLK’s letter, what resonated with you? How did you think it applied to your own life? Did you see it as a call to action in other important matters?  

Photo credit: mattlemmon via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

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