“I am moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart.”
On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a momentous speech at the Riverside Church in New York City in which he voiced his opposition to the Vietnam War. I was in high school and most of my friends were Black, and it united us in solidarity against our government when King connected “our” struggles – Racial Justice and Nonviolence against Asians. It also brought out my voice, emboldening me to speak up when I believed that something was wrong.
King admitted that fear, apathy, and uncertainty inhibited him from following the demands of inner truth and opposing his government’s policy, especially in time of war. But he could no longer be silent.
“Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”
Like the Vietnam War, today’s global catastrophe, brings us to a vulnerable place where we realize our interconnectedness and open to the reality of other worldviews and lived realities. As we witness our world collapse all around us we may be awakened with compassion, and moved to break the betrayal of our silences and speak from the burnings of our heart.
I ask my students, and myself, what do you need to say – to your government, to your organization, to your school, to your family, to your friend, to an antagonist? How are you are called to speak your beliefs and morals, risking rejection and ridicule? How are you called to speak, standing for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, and for those it calls "enemy."
By speaking out against the war, King widened our circles of compassion, destroying the delusion of isolated history that fragments us from ourselves and each other. When we look at how our people’s history does not exist in isolation, but instead arises in dynamic relationship to multiple peoples’ histories, then we may find a basis for a deep solidarity. When we look at how we all face the life threatening danger of this virus we may transcend our constructed borders and come together as one people with gentleness.