A lot has happened, and a lot is happening across the country. I want to offer a specific word of
challenge to help us navigate the days before us. We cannot afford to fall into reactive patterns
that do not bring real change. That is why there must be protests and plans. We must raise our
voices in objection to these senseless killings and demand accountability for all involved. Protests
can take on different forms but should be planned and not merely reactive because the point is
to apply moral and social pressure to bring change.
Community leaders and organizations need an underlying or guiding philosophy that inform our
plans and work – activism, advocacy, public policy, education, and ministry. Neither fiery memes,
rants, and debates on social media, nor signs and shouting in the streets will bring our
communities change because much of it is reactionary in nature. We must do more than get
worked up emotionally.
Passion is good but it must be channeled. Righteous anger should lead to organizing, voting,
writing new policies, educating our communities about our issues, leveraging financial resources,
strengthening black institutions like HBCUs, building interracial coalitions, and holding black (and
other) leaders accountable for representing our issues. We have to create, and support
mechanisms of change and reaction will never make that happen, but plans rooted in a deeper
I learned this from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who organized masses of people for social change
because he had a guiding philosophy that informed the work – nonviolent direct action. We do
not have to agree with King’s philosophy of nonviolence. I do, but others do not. The point is that
he had a philosophy that undergirded his advocacy work. So, when he led a protest, he had a
goal in mind. We need to know the outcome, what we want to see happen and who or what
entity needs to be challenged and for how long. This is a qualitatively different approach that
getting worked up and hitting the streets in anger.
I also want to make two final points for our consideration. Dr. King left us both practical models
to follow as we take up justice work and a legacy of strength. At the core of his legacy was his
belief that we should resist violence and hatred. We must be rooted in a tough love, for it gives us
the strength to resist retaliation.
An Experiment in Love (1950s)
“I stressed that the use of violence in our struggle would be both impractical and immoral.
To meet hate with retaliatory hate would do nothing but intensify the existence of evil in
the universe. Hate begets hate; violence begets violence…We must meet the forces of hate
with the power of love; we must meet physical force with our soul free.”
Violence and its fuel, hatred, must be resisted. Black people are hurting but hate is not the
answer. King’s reminder that violence is impractical and immoral needs to be heard in parts of
members of both the black and white community who want to use peaceful protests as arenas
for violence and looting. He also warned about the forces of reaction during times of war. I
believe his thoughts here apply to times of intense national conflict.
Martin Luther King, Jr. NBC News Interview (1968)
“It is really much more difficult to arouse the conscience during a time of war. There is
something about a war like this that makes people insensitive. It dulls the conscience. It
strengthens the forces of reaction and it brings into being bitterness and hatred and
During times of major conflict, emotions run hot and deep. During these times, we identify
enemies and mobilize to destroy them. More dangerously, during these times, we require family
and friends to choose sides. “Are you for us or against us?” This is what King meant by the
statement “it makes people insensitive.” They will do all sorts of things against others because
they are caught up by the forces of reaction.
Dr. King’s warning about the forces of reaction should remind us of the deeper spiritual nature of
our struggle. That is why we should never engage an adversary committed to evil on their terms.
It only draws us into the very evil we are seeking to resist. In the words of the New Testament
letter to the Ephesians, we need to stop being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown
here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning craftiness of people in their deceitful
scheming (4:14) and not to fall into the mimetic trap of “repaying evil for evil” (Romans 12:17).
Friends do not allow yourself to get swept into the rising tide of hate, for it is only a prelude to
condoning or participating in violence.
I encourage you to read my articles on the neglected dimensions of verbal violence in our civic
discourse in Black Politics Today magazine. It delves into the verbal dimensions of violence
rampant in our communities and on social media. My prayer is for God to grant us inner peace,
strength, compassion for hurting people, understanding, and wisdom to confront evil with good.