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‘It is our turn’

by Karanja A. Ajanaku


No stranger to the National Civil Rights Museum, Mayor A C Wharton Jr. on Tuesday took his turn at a podium there and looked ahead about a week to the annual celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.

He had been asked to keynote a gathering that reflected collaboration between the law firm of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis and the Anti-Defamation League. In a room with no chairs left unfilled, he seized up the luncheon theme – “The Legacy: It’s Our Turn.r Turn.

“It is our turn,” said Wharton, clearly comfortable in a room with a bevy of lawyers. “And it is our turn as we will celebrate next week. …We know the dream (of Dr. King) and what it is about. What do we do with it?”

It was not the first nor will it be the last time a speaker poses such a question as an observance of MLK Day looms. Wharton knew that, careful to tie his question to current events for weight and validity.

“I don’t know anyone who can make an appearance anywhere at this time and in this season without taking stock of the world in which we live and the conditions that threaten and call into question the mere viability of the basic truth that in God’s sight ‘I am a man,’” he said, borrowing the phrase forever linked with the Sanitation Workers Strike in Memphis in 1968. “Or change the words: I am a woman, I’m a Gentile, I’m a Jew, I’m Muslim.”

Referencing the terrorist attacks that recently rocked Paris, Boko Haram’s slaughter of 2000-plus people in Nigeria and happenings in places such as Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Wharton said the “ugly head of bias and prejudice is alive and well in every corner of God’s great od’s great

“Against that backdrop we gather to remember the man who reached deep down inside of us all, looking for that better person; that better person that is deep down in each one of us.”

On MLK Day – and days before and after – each of us is called upon to be midwives in the birthing of those better persons, he said, making sure of no breach, no still born birth in the face of prejudice that lurks, seeking to seep in.

Dr. King, he said, chose to come to Memphis to address the “pain and suffering down in the valley” rather than skip the below-sea-level city and seek the promise of a bigger spotlight.

The need now is for each person in Greater Memphis to follow Dr. King’s lead and move to “meet the need in the valley,” putting the dream to work.

Latching onto how the Elvis crowd continues to grow and get younger, he said, “Would it not be just so great that when it comes to remembering Dr. King we never have the occasion to say the crowd is smaller because those who marched with Dr. King have passed on. Let’s take a page out of Elvis’ book.”

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