Commentary

A reflection on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘radical revolution of values’

King’s 1967 speech is particularly relevant today

January 15, 2024 5:45 am
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers a speech to a crowd of approximately 7,000 people on May 17, 1967, at UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza in Berkeley, California. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

We live in a time when We, the People of the United States of America, are divided on social, political, and economic issues. Democracy itself is under attack, and issues such as women’s rights, voting rights, border concerns, and school curricula continue to divide us as a nation. The man we honor today, the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lends the country a perfect opportunity to reflect on itself. 

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution charges the American people to work to make this nation a more perfect union. It states a perfect union will establish justice, promote the general welfare, and secure freedom for the American people. Dr. King loved and believed in America. However, he warned us of our present-day reality. It is time to move away from the nostalgia of King the Dreamer in 1963 and reflect on King’s speech, Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence, reflecting on the “radical revolution of values,” in 1967. This speech rings true today as it did in 1967. Some lines appear to be  prophetic.

During his speech, Dr. King said, “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” 

The Pew Research Center has found that  half of U.S. adults get their news at least sometimes from social media, , where  misinformation and disinformation thrive. According to Pew and the World Health Organization, human exposure to misinformation and disinformation induces fear, anxiety, and a lack of trust in credible institutions.

Increasingly, technology is also replacing face-to-face contact and human interaction. This further desensitizes and dehumanizes us as a nation during a time when we desperately need to come together and connect on a human level. If we don’t make personal and societal shifts in how we use technology and social media, rising fear, anxiety, and the loss of human connection coupled with the mistrust of our institutions will create the conditions for democracy as we know it to end.

Dr. King, against the will of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other civil rights leaders, protested the Vietnam War because he believed you couldn’t dismantle racism without addressing the military-industrial complex. Dr. King said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Democrats and Republicans have consistently demonstrated their inability to compromise to pass bills that support the “general welfare” of the people. However, the massive military budget  sails through Congress every year. Moreover, federal discretionary spending this year is $1.586 billion, with $850 billion allocated to military defense.

We are involved in military conflict in Ukraine, Israel and now  in other areas of the Middle East and Asia. We are in an ideological war at home while at war around the world. I believe this places us on the precipice of national disaster. The soul of this Nation is dying, and we must look to history as a warning. Throughout human history, there have been a little over two dozen civilizations that have risen and fallen. And each civilization has failed not because of external invasion but from internal decay.

We, the people of this great nation, are at a crossroads. If we act now, we can prevent history from repeating itself. Dr. King provided the country with a blueprint to make justice, well-being and freedom for the American people a reality for everyone — his call for a radical revolution of values aimed to create what he called the Beloved Community. 

Dr. King saw the potential power of humanity through embracing the spirit of being ecumenical, and that’s why he called for Americans of all religions, faiths, political affiliations and all things that divide us to come together and sit at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood. 

It is time for us to come together, reconcile our differences, and bond on what we have in common. The U.S. Constitution bonds and unites us as Americans. Dr. King said, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” 

If we want to save the nation’s soul, we need to take heed of Dr. King’s radical revolution of values. We must look past our differences and work to find common ground as brothers and sisters of this great United States of America. 

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Percy Brown
Percy Brown

Percy Brown is the CEO of North Star Consulting Services, Inc. He has directed DEI initiatives across multiple industries. He come from multiple generations of civil rights activists including his grandfather who was an educator who led desegregation efforts in the Mississippi schools in the 1950s and 60s. He is passionate about raising awareness to cultivate a more equitable, diverse and inclusive society.

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