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Reflection on Dr. King’s Legacy and the Arc of the Universe

Originally published on The Huffington Post

A few days ago on January 21, 2013, we celebrated the legacy and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There is incredible synchronicity in the unfolding events in just these first few weeks of the New Year.

Synchronicity finds meaning in the alignment of a series of seemingly unrelated events. Those who understand and are guided by the concept tell us that synchronicity is confirmation that you are on the right path.

January 21, 2013 was when we officially celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. January 21, 2013 was also the day this nation celebrated the inauguration of our 44th president. For the second time, Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Regardless of your political affiliation -- and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is non-partisan -- we can all celebrate the triumph of the democratic process and the progress that we are making toward true equality under the law.

On that same morning The History Channel aired a program on Dr. King's life and work. It told a story which has too often been forgotten or obscured because the passage of years has placed a softening hue on the glare of terror and violence that were very much a part of his struggle for justice.

It was when young people, students and children took up the cause that things began to change. When this nation was confronted with the unprovoked brutality being inflicted in streets throughout the South, the conscience of a sleeping society was awakened.

It is again today that our nation's youth, newly politically energized are finding and leading the way -- showing us how to thrive in the multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-generational, diverse and tolerant society that Dr. King spoke of from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Synchronicity or Legacy?

Dr. King shared a vision of an America that was bigger than him. It was a vision that could see beyond the ugly face of Jim Crow and the bitterness of generations of dreams deferred.
It was a vision of hope and light so compelling that we are drawn to it -- sometimes willingly -- other times stubbornly, kicking and scratching- but drawn to it nevertheless.

On January 15th, Dr. King's actual birthday, I stood with Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, and NAACP leaders from throughout the state of Maryland. We stood with Governor Martin O'Malley, the Maryland legislative Black Caucus and a full complement of Maryland State Senate and House sponsors to announce that 2013 would be the year that the death penalty is ended in Maryland.

On Dr. King's birthday we stood to declare our continued pursuit of his vision: a world where violence is not repaid with more violence. We stood to declare that the path forward is the hard work of love which prioritizes caring for all victims of crime and love which holds people accountable for the harm they do to others.

It was an extraordinary gathering. Those who had labored for many years could sense that their vision of a state, where the focus is on policies that work and caring for those who are hurt, is close at hand.

Synchronicity or legacy: Confirmation that we are on the right path.

Dr. King's vision which at once seemed so hopeful and implausible required a fundamental change in the way we lived as a nation and individuals.

Segregation and racial inequality in every aspect of our lives was the norm. Good people harbored hatred for their neighbors. Good people carefully monitored the race and ethnicity of their children's playmates to steer them away from problematic friendships -- fearing their innocent and open hearts might jeopardize their social standing or their safety.

But we changed the way we lived. When we ate together and went to school together; when we worked together; served in the military and fought together, we found that there was more to love and less to fear. We moved, albeit timidly at first, in the direction of Dr. King's vision. Clearly we have not yet reached Dr. King's Promised Land but we are finding our way.

That is why I am hopeful today. I am hopeful that the death penalty will end in Maryland and soon this year. I am hopeful for Maryland and what it will mean to take this concrete step to prioritize the needs of victims of crime. The legislation that has been proposed would appropriate funding for the State's Victim Fund, from the savings that result from ending the death penalty.

I am also hopeful because the light that will shine from Annapolis when the death penalty is ended will illuminate the path of those still struggling, in the diminishing number of places, where death sentences continue to be imposed and executions carried out.

The light will shine from Annapolis to states and localities that still execute people with mental retardation, despite the Supreme Court's ruling against it.

The light will shine into places where the prosecution continues to press for executions despite the fact that the defendant was denied a fair trial by a jury of his peers because people of color were intentionally and systematically denied the opportunity to serve as jurors.

The light will certainly shine into places where the lawyering was subpar and jurors never heard the whole story before sentencing a man or woman to die. It is in these places, like the state of Georgia that executed Troy Anthony Davis despite doubt about his guilt, that the light of life and Dr. King's vision will make such a difference.

Legacy, synchronicity, we are on the right path.

The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

The Death Penalty Information Center reported in its 2012 Year End Report that "more than half the states (30) in the country either do not have the death penalty or have not carried out executions in five years..." Only nine states carried out executions in 2012. Only four states: Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Arizona were responsible for the bulk of the 43 executions last year.

It is in these places that the reverberations of a new day and a new way must be felt.

I am hopeful because the arc of the universe is long, but it does inevitably bend toward justice.


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