A number of years ago, I visited the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. It was a surreal experience for me, because everything was preserved. Touring the museum, which showcased a lot of Black Memphis life in the late 60’s, served to frame Dr. King’s life as a still shot in history. Frozen in time, it is often easy to memorialize him and neuter his prophetic message. King’s dream wasn’t some far fetched philosophical idea. It was a way of life and a way of proceeding. For the sanitation workers for whom he had traveled to Memphis to support, their dream was to earn a living wage picking up other people’s garbage.
St. Paul told the Corinthians:
Your boasting is not appropriate.
Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?
Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough,
inasmuch as you are unleavened.
-1 Corinthians 5:1-3
The older I get, the more I think of King’s legacy in light of St. Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians. Dr. King’s dream was for our nation to clear out the old yeast, so that we may become a fresh batch of dough. In his time, as much as it is for our time, we exist with so much old yeast. Our nation continues to tie human dignity and worth to race and class. Unfortunately, that has meant for most of our history that vast segments of our society have had to yearn, fight for, and strive for that very dignity and worth. That fight continues.
In our time and in our city, we see so many students of color struggling to attain quality education. In our time and in our city, we see so many poor unhoused and underemployed. In our time and in our city, poverty is still tied to race. In our time and in our city, to be Black is to be damned.
Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough.
What would it take for us to walk in the footsteps of Dr. King and clear out the old yeast? Let us recommit ourselves to be a people of hope, dreams, and aspirations. Let us recommit ourselves to clearing out racial injustice through our work here at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep.
We can and we must.
I think the first step is a radical reorientation of ourselves to the other. St. Paul told the Romans:
"Brothers and sisters: owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another...You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
What this means practically is a radical closeness.
As we celebrate this Martin Luther Day, let us do so with the intention of getting radically close to our neighbor. May this day remind us of our own role that we can and must play to clear out the old yeast.