Columnist Daniel Cantor Yalowitz: Continuing to build on MLK’s legacy

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz



Published: 01-15-2024 6:00 AM

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom (1958)

The wars that rage around the world are not only to be found elsewhere, beyond our soil and nation. Yes, there are now many simultaneous international hotspots, whether the U.S. is engaged directly, indirectly, or minimally. Those are the ones, perhaps, that are easier to identify and name.

But there are many wars, of varying intensity, within the land upon which we live, and many if not most of us bear the stain and strain of these battles. In the U.S. today, we are in a tough battle to maintain our sanity and our democracy; racism, antisemitism, and many other forms of oppression are on the rise; the poor are poorer and more challenged than before, while the wealthy become increasingly rich; environmental degradation and pollution on our continent is worsening dramatically and those are just a few of the wars being fought on our home turf. None of this is new for most of us. It is ongoing whether we are looking or not.

As we formally enter the 2024 presidential nomination and election season, the choice has never been as clear and stark as the differences between the two elders who may likely be the ones to fight for the right to serve for the next four years.

This is a time — and today is the day — where we can (and should) be reflecting on what is most singularly important for our country and our communities moving forward. If we are to have peace, it is not only in the international sphere. It must also have its base and basis here at home, at the federal, state, and local levels.

Today, we honor the legacy of the life and work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the occasion of what would have been his 95th birthday. His legacy continues to stand tall and strong in the ever-continuing search for peace and justice. We need to do more than merely hope that his 1968 statement, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The way to honor him and his legacy is to take righteous action to move boldly forward toward this arc of peace and justice, not merely to repeat his or others’ words.

Peace demands sacrifice without and beyond question. The outcomes and consequences of all the internecine conflicts listed above are uncertain and that is frightening. There is nothing easy or simple about letting go, giving up, sacrificing, and doing with less so that others may have something or something more, especially if what we choose to do without has deep meaning in our lives. There is nothing hypothetical about this. Ultimately, peace and justice are more about action and doing than theory and thinking. And that’s where things get tough.

Whether it’s about restitution, land/money/art/artifact “give backs” or finding the place of true peace in one’s heart, we both offer and let go something of ourselves in the process. As a process, however, whatever is “lost” is also gained, both by those making the sacrifice and those receiving it. Recall how it feels to give someone something that you really want, even covet or need, but recognize that doing so is of greater importance to each being in a relationship than holding onto it. Some may sneer at this and call it communism or socialism — but isn’t that one of the lessons in our families and in grade school — to learn to share, to collaborate, to do as well without as with and to build estimable friendships from such actions?

King saw this; more importantly, it came from his life experience. And he, like too many others, paid the ultimate price while making the ultimate sacrifice, losing his life fighting for it. He knew and he lived from a place of personal and familial sacrifice and held a constant awareness that doing so is what it would take from all of us to move a genuine peace and justice process forward. Nothing less will do.

We live in an amazing world. What the human species is capable of in the positive realm can be, indeed is, marvelous. We create, we organize, we build, we explore, we question, we love, and each and all these essential human doings demand sacrifice and care. Yet, true peace somehow seems elusive to us. I do believe that if we really wanted genuine peace and real justice, we could and we would find a way. Let us look today and beyond at King’s legacy and build on it, in any of the many ways we can.

In closing, this brings me to my all-time favorite quote, from Antoine de St. Exupery’s masterpiece, “The Little Prince”: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

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