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Signs Of Life

Columns by Pamela Majteles

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Posted by pam on January 14, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Originally published January 19, 2007

This column is reprinted with permission from The Hills Newspapers.

It’s the journey that matters most in life, not the destination.  Or, so they say.  If you were among those headed out of town last weekend for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday, you would probably disagree.  When getting away for any long holiday weekend, it is all about the destination.

Like other holiday weekends, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday is about getting away for many people.  Despite the travel, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday does stand apart from other holidays such as Presidents’ Day or Labor Day.  With those holidays, people rarely think about the meaning of the day.  It is hard to care about presidents who lived centuries ago, or to figure out who are the laborers being honored (don’t we all labor one way or another).

Even for people who do not spend a lot of time acknowledging Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday, there is, at least, a flash of recognition as to the meaning of the day.  In contrast to those other holidays, this one involves recent history.  Not everyone is old enough to have firsthand knowledge of Dr. King, but most of us place a high value on the sort of fairness and justice for which he is remembered.

As leader of the civil rights movement, Dr. King is best known for working to achieve equality for African Americans.  His message, however, included all of us.  He envisioned a world where people live peacefully together regardless of their differences.  Today, his message is as important as ever.

In our area, there are lots of differences among people.  There is a wide variety of races, ethnic groups, languages, and religions.  At times, I forget how much diversity exists here, because of the relative harmony among us.  On occasion, I am reminded of it, like when I see the mural by local artist Rocky Baird on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland.

When walking along Piedmont Avenue, I am always stopped in my tracks by the impressive mural on the side of the building at the corner of 41st Street.  As typical of murals, it has a story to tell.  This one is about the social and cultural history of California.  It is a sweeping view of the cultural clashes between some of the earliest inhabitants, beginning with Native Americans, cavalry men, and Spanish missionaries.  The story continues with the arrival of cowboys, sailors, and immigrant farm workers.  It ends in the present day with views of all the different kinds of people living here.

This telling of the story of California is not a happy one.  Mostly, conflicts between the different groups result in the victimization of the less powerful at the hands of the more powerful.  Although there is undoubtedly a great deal of truth, it offers only one side of the story.  In the here and now, close to home, we enjoy a lot of diversity among us, as well as peaceful lives side-by-side.

Just a little farther from home, however, is another story.  In our larger urban area, the problems of poverty contribute to conflicts between different races and ethnic groups.  Conflicts between different people in different places can be found both near and far.

With all the journeys taken this past holiday weekend, it is worth thinking about the one of greatest importance to Dr. King.  He wanted us to find the way to live peacefully together regardless of our differences.  We still have a long way to go.  This journey, more than any other, is all about the destination.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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