Guest columnist Daniel Cantor Yalowitz: Remembering King and the long arc of justice

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz



Published: 08-28-2023 2:00 PM

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on [its] promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”

 — The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (“I Have a Dream” speech, Aug. 28, 1963)

Like Dr. King, I, too, refuse to believe that the “bank of justice is bankrupt.” Along with him, I do not accept that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, in his words, “it is well beyond time to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” As he stated so boldly back then, 60 years ago today, “we have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

What we have now, two full generations later, is a continuing fight for our lives … we have blood and death and hate and a fully bifurcated society all around (and many would say, within) us. Today marks an important anniversary in the evolution of our country, an attempt and experience in democracy and capitalism. King exhorted us to wake up, to look up, to look out and around at ourselves, our people, our culture, and to take the bold actions necessary to make the major corrections to save the life of our nation and the health and spirit of our people.

As it was then, when King gave his iconic speech on the 28th of August, 1963, it is even more so now. We seem to be more dug in around our racial and class divides and differences than ever before. This is a cancer that is not only “out there” — it is somehow within us, in our communities, neighborhoods, schools, families, and places of faith. It’s not that we are all poisoned but the evils and toxicity of too many “—isms” are dangerously ever-present and ubiquitous.

There is much good being done to combat injustice in all its pernicious forms in many communities, and many “good people” trying to make a meaningful and positive difference in a world that sometimes seems not to notice, not to care. I believe that the high heat of hatred can yield, as the long arc of justice does, toward blessings and love — if we are so willing to evolve within ourselves the notion that all people matter. As King noted in ‘63, “ … the whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”

It takes a different kind of strength to combat and eliminate these evils that confront and surround us. It takes fierce kindness, tough love, a willingness to be uncomfortable and take risks and relinquish the ego and comforts that so many of us have built to isolate us from the pain and suffering of others. As a global citizen and 20-year resident of Greenfield, I am taking up the torch and making a public commitment today to find a new way. This could be contagious, enough so that we, the local folks of Franklin and Hampshire counties, can make a difference. Here’s what this will look like for me, going forward:

Always think and act inclusively. The “us” and “we” that I plan and volunteer for locally includes everyone. I must push my thinking and actions out and beyond my typical comfort zones.

Don’t shame or expect things of others that I cannot offer myself. No double-standards, no issuing blame-and-condemn statements. Hold others, whether known to me or not, up as I do my dearest and cherished family and friends. Try to think well of everyone!

Have and live and share my dream and the dreams of so many others to build and live in peace, in harmony. This of course means living the spirit of compromise, agreeing to (peaceably) disagree, to act thoughtfully around conflict, and to seek the goodness in others that I hold for and within myself.

And this is all merely the base of the mountaintop that King was trying to get us to. He held and shared his dream “that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight …” He has passed this torch onto us, and it is upon each of us to be the difference we wish to see in our world. Let his words, his vision no longer be in pain, and in vain. What will you commit to?

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz writes a regular column in the Recorder. A developmental and intercultural psychologist, he has facilitated change in many organizations and communities around the world. He is former chairman of the Greenfield Human Rights Commission and his two most recent books are “Journeying with Your Archetypes” and “Reflections on the Nature of Friendship.” Reach out to him at