In honor of MLK Day – and Valentine’s Day on the horizon – I am reflecting on what a married friend shared with me a few years ago in confidence. She said her next love would have to be a man who participated in the US Civil Rights Movement during the 1960’s. She mused about divorcing her husband – the father of her only child – a man who is artistic, unique and a mathematical genius – and finding a truer, deeper love. The qualities her husband possesses provided her the love she needed in her late 20’s; but years later, my friend, who came to the US as a young girl, finds it’s not the basis of the lasting love she is in need of to take her through her 40’s and beyond. Today, she needs a love that will excite her to her very core and have deep and true meaning, like the love provided by a man who has risked his reputation, livelihood and very life for the justice of his people and others.
What she means is male activists in the Occupy Wall Street movement didn’t take the same risks. Yes, the cause was – and is – noble. But, most likely the man occupying Wall Street was there because he had already lost his job – or his house. So, he had nothing more to risk by occupying Wall Street. And, if he did have a job, in all probability he was not at risk of losing it – or his life – because of his activism. Martin Luther King, Jr and the the civil rights leaders of the 1960s put everything on the line to change society. Because of them, Blacks, other minorities and whites from working class and ethnic backgrounds have more rights and freedom today. For my friend, who confronted racism as a young mixed-heritage immigrant girl, only a man who could take such risks – and show that deeper love for all humanity – could provide real, true love that would touch a woman’s very core… forever.
But, civil rights leaders are now in their late 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, slowly dying out. Maybe my friend will be moved by a man who participated in the Arab Spring. Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan, Syrian and other Arab men put their reputation and lives on the line, and now 4 years after the Arab Spring first began, the hope of creating a better and more democratic Arab society is strong in some countries like Tunisia but perhaps fading in others. It takes passion, commitment, and true love of humankind to continue in such a movement. Today, there are the activists of Ferguson. US Black men are being recklessly slaughtered by police without mainstream acknowledgement that something has gone very wrong. In many ways, it appears to be a surreal resurrection of the Emmett Till story multiplied many times over. There may be new civil rights leaders on the horizon.
But, true love comes in many forms. And, men like Martin Luther King, Jr and others in the civil rights’ movement have committed themselves to loving all of humankind – and not just one woman.
The original version of this article was published in February 2012