Over the past year the Coalfield Development team explored history: our own personal history, our region’s history, our country’s history, and our organization’s efforts at making history. The discussions and reflections emerging from this exploration have been rich. Our new insights inform our theme for 2023: listening. MLK Day is a good opportunity for reflecting on both history and listening, and it’s a good day for recommitment to justice.
For a long time, I liked saying “I love history.” In college, I was a History major. Reading books about historical figures, events, and movements has always been a favorite pastime. However, after deeper reflection on history in 2022, I no longer feel this way. The truth is so much of history is unjust, inhumane, and just plain cruel. You cannot study Appalachia without also studying corruption and exploitation.
And you cannot study American history without studying racism, oppression and vice versa. These are truths I do not love.
However, you also cannot study Appalachian history without studying resilience and ingenuity. You cannot study American history without studying movements for change and democratic reforms; vice versa. I do not love all of history, but I do love learning about movements and causes that have—and continue to– clean up the hurt of history while clearing new ways forward for healing.
I love learning about historical truth (the good, the bad, and the ugly), so we can avoid repeating past errors and build a more just future. Ultimately, we are all making history all the time. History is way bigger than any one person or one organization. History is so much more than famous people. History is us; how we live each day.
And so, how we treat one another matters.
Few people lived with such passion and compassion as MLK. Few movements achieved so much in so little time as the American Civil Rights movement. One of the questions we reflected on last year was: Just how much change really is possible?
MLK and the thousands of organizers answered this question by putting his words into an actionable answer: “More than you can imagine.”
That’s good news because there’s still so much work before us. Work for a healed Appalachia, work for a healed country, work for a healed planet, and work for healing within ourselves. It is not enough to say “I love learning about MLK and the Civil Rights movement.” We must ask, “How can I carry the dream forward. How can I live more justly? How can I inspire others towards more justice?”
Listening is a good starting place.
We must listen because different people with different backgrounds and views disagree on what is just and what is not and on how we go about achieving just outcomes. In some ways that’s a problem, but MLK preached the power of diversity.
When we listen, we can harness that power. When we start with genuine listening, rather than become defeated by our differences we become blessed by them. Listening is not the opposite of action. Genuine listening is the beginning of good and just action, and when we skip it, we skip an opportunity for the healing and blessings on all engaged.
This MLK we celebrate the many blessings his movement brought on this country.
And we recommit to justice.
We listen and learn. We seek out new ways to contribute to justice where and when we can.