Other words to say, other things to do

Published 7:23 pm Saturday, January 12, 2019

By Yolande Robbins

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will be 90 this Jan. 15. And the four most remembered and repeated words he said will be said again, “I have a dream.”

Sometimes, it seems they are the only words he said. Time and again, they are invoked by children in church performances, by speakers at high school graduations, by some who find them easier to say instead of use.

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Today, there are others with these same dreams too, immigrant men, women, and children running their way here, desperate for a change and determined that change will happen.

And 55 years ago this year, our hero, Dr. King gave another speech in 1964, in Oslo, Norway, when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace and said, “I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.”

We can’t be just a commemorative people who celebrate, but never act.

Professor Wangari Maathai of Kenya won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2004, exactly 40 years after Dr. King. But that was only the latest recognition of this great woman’s work. And probably the recognition that she cherished most was the December 2002 election that brought her to the Kenyan Parliament with 98 percent of the vote.

Known throughout Africa, and now the world, as “The Tree Lady”, Dr. Maathai founded the “Green Belt” movement in 1976 when she began urging the planting of trees as a means of both conserving the environment and improving the quality of women’s lives in Africa.

She assisted them in planting more than 20 million trees on their farms and at their schools and church compounds.

Beginning in 1986, this network stretched across her homeland, and her campaign against land-grabbing and the destruction of forests put her in the limelight that culminated in this prize.

Dr. Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctoral degree, akin to our own Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister.

She pursued her studies in Kansas and Pittsburgh and in Germany and Nairobi and was known all over the world for her “persistent struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation.”

Dr. King was the second African American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The first was Ralph Joseph Bunche who had negotiated peace in the Middle East in the first Arab-Israeli war. How many of us know that?

Or that Wangari Maathai was the first African woman — and environmentalist — to win that Prize?

Dr. Martin Luther King was one of the earliest, but not the only one that we should celebrate. He should be an example to us, not just an icon.

We’re living in a time when both his words and work are being discarded.

And while we are having dreams, many more are having nightmares.

What shall we do?

Yolande Robbins is a community correspondent for The Post. Email her at  yolanderobbins@fastmail.com