Today on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, we honor his courageous legacy and untiring work for justice, using nonviolent principles to end segregation and promote human rights and dignity.

On April 16, 1963, King was in a Birmingham Jail, his heart was heavy with the violations of human rights and indignity African Americans suffer at every level of their daily lives.

In a letter he wrote from the jail, King writes, “History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. … we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

At the same time, he insists on using nonviolent principles to forward the work of justice.

In the letter, he continued by proclaiming that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He tells us that we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. These words are certainly true today as we address the issues of climate change and environmental racism.

Today, Martin Luther King III, a global human rights activist, carries on his father’s legacy, stating that it was only the beginning of the work to be done. He begs us not to idolize his father, but to carry on his legacy because he writes:

“The poor and disenfranchised – too often those in communities of color – still disproportionately bear society’s harms through no fault of their own. That truth has compelled the fight for social justice across the spectrum: labor rights, women’s rights – and yes – environmental rights.

“Because no matter who we are or where we come from, we’re all entitled to the basic human rights of clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy land to call home.

“Make no mistake, the injustice of climate change and the pollution that fuels it are among this century’s most debilitating engines of inequality.”

Rev. Melanie L. Harris, in her 2017 scholarly book, Ecowomanism: African American Women and Earth-Honoring Faiths, adds a distinctive contribution to the issue of environmental justice. Through the lens and voices of women of color, Rev. Harris provides intercultural and intergenerational perspectives of the relationship between spirituality and care for the earth.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

This year is the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. May his life’s legacy and dream of racial harmony and justice, of creating the “Beloved Community” continue through us. May we not be silent about things that matter.