2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist, social worker and women's rights advocate once said:
“You can never leave footprints that last if you are always walking on tiptoe”
When we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., we should really consider the footprints he made in our struggle for the equal rights promised, but not ever delivered, here in our American democracy.
We must remember the hate, death threats, pain and imprisonment Dr. King endured and how politicians twist and turn his words today as a way to tiptoe around the truth he preached.
We must remember how his footprints have always been shaped by a legacy of violence—the kind of both insidious and outright violence that always rises to defend white supremacy and white power. The kind of violence we saw play out on live TV on Jan. 6, 2021.
Make no mistake, MLK’s footprints are bloody with his sacrifice. Remember that when MLK was assassinated, he was in Memphis, fighting in solidarity with sanitation workers for fair wages and treatment. It was there, while speaking up for workers, that he was shot down. Today the fight for worker rights continues, spurred by the devastation of a global pandemic, and yet people continue to tiptoe around hard truths.
Always remember who is tiptoeing around record profits for company executives as their “essential” workers strike for livable wages and protections for their health and safety on the job. Always remember that when MLK talked about having a dream during the March on Washington, he was dreaming in support of worker rights, along with protections for civil rights and legislation that would codify both.
I ask you to go one step further, though, and consider the shape and form of your own footprints as we continue MLK’s fight for the democracy promised in our Constitution.
Creating our own footprints requires us to stop tiptoeing around the same hard, uncomfortable truths that led to his assassination. Make no mistake, those truths remain embedded in our nation, our state and our cities today.
Creating our own footprints start with recognizing who is tiptoeing with their votes, with their policies, with their public statements. Who is tiptoeing out of fear and who is tiptoeing out of indifference?
Who is using select MLK quotes to tiptoe around the ongoing fight against the continued inequities in health (and healthcare), education (and opportunity) and community justice and safety (and injustice and violence)?
Creating our own footprints begins by asking: where will you leave your footprint? Where have you planted your feet firmly to ensure justice always has a seat at the table?
As the King once said– “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." He knew that poverty, incarceration and unfettered capitalism would destroy us all. He knew the devastating impact tiptoeing has on the collective conscience of this world.
If you’re not standing firm today and fighting for voting rights, you are tiptoeing.
If you’re not standing for pay increases for the working class, for fair housing laws, for an end to poverty-- you are tiptoeing.
If you aren’t demanding equitable education for students, and yes, the right to teach accurate history, you are tiptoeing.
This movement, MLK’s movement, has no room for tiptoeers. We need marchers, risk-takers, and people willing to lock arms and leave whole footprints in the sand for Justice. We need more CouRage! #navigatingcourage
Dr. Robin Martin
President/CEO, Navigating Courage, Inc.