As we prepare to mark the 25th official observation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday on Monday, Jan. 17, the Citizen asked Rev. Thomas L. Nins, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Greenwich, for his perspective on the changes in society since the days of Dr. King, and the work that lies ahead to realize his dream.
What does Martin Luther King Jr. Day symbolize to you?
Martin Luther King Jr. Day symbolizes hope. In a very real sense, it is a day when we honor a way of being together in this country as a community that transcends the natural flow of day to day living. The observance of this day gives rise to the fundamental question, "Can we actually be more?"
What has changed since the days of Martin Luther King Jr.?
Legislatively, much has changed since King was alive. Simple things like public accommodations, seating on public transportation and drinking from public water fountains are the direct result of the civil rights struggle.
It is, however, the heart and soul of people who only dreamed of these simple events that changed the most.
Moving from the possible to the probable to the factual is an amazing evolution in race and human relations. It is an important part of what makes this country unique.
What hasn't changed since the days of Martin Luther King Jr.?
We may stay in the hotels of our choosing and affordability. But very few African Americans own any.
We may sit anywhere we would like on the bus, drink as much water as we can contain and watch our favorite athletes on widescreen TVs. But only a small percentage of African Americans have a financial stake in professional athletics beyond a closet full of "Jordans" and well-worn hoodies displaying their favorite teams' logos.
African Americans are far from the peaceful shore of true political power and economic equity in this country and in our town.
We must never forget that even the voting rights act had a timetable attached it. Some of us on both sides of the aisle still resist true change. The struggle continues.
As 2011 begins, what are some of the most important lessons we should remember from Dr. King?
We should remember that Dr. King did not march alone. The March on Washington and Selma would have looked much different and had a much different impact had King walked there by himself. Change, true change begins within the individual. But for a community, a corporation or dare I say, a nation to change, there must be a collective collaboration of common values, a clear mission and an uncompromising commitment to a cause greater than our selves.
What is your outlook for the future?
From our beaches to the backcountry, we take a measure of pride in being part of the best. Everywhere I look, from our schools, scout, and youth programs to our police, fire and rescue departments we are developing new leaders and dedicated young people with a heart for community service. So I am optimistic about our days to come.
However, true success in our individual relationships and in our nation's health will not be measured by our acquisition of wealth or the number of valedictorians we produce. Nor will the future look very different from the past if we remain quiet in the face of ignorance, indifference or injustice. We must continue to stand for what is right and against what is wrong knowing that acquiescence is too a high a price to pay. Now when we say the world is watching - it's true.
What do you see as our greatest challenge?
Three things: Courage, Honor and Truth. Our challenge today in both race and in human relations is not figuring out what we need to do. Our greatest challenge is answering the question "Who is willing to work once we decide what to do?" The more time elapses the farther from the original issues that gave birth to the dream we become. The call to live courageously with honor and to stand for truth is not easy or for the feint of heart. To live with integrity, that is our greatest challenge.
What is your dream?
Quite honestly, I dream a world like many parents do. I dream a world where my children will be valued for the gifts, spirit and character they bring to the table. I dream a world where we can live with the discomfort of other races and cultures without sacrificing the beauty of our own. Equality, inclusion, diversity -- these concepts were never meant to diminish one in order to accentuate the other.
I dream that we recover the true meaning of neighborhood, hold on to what benefits us all, stand against those ideals and practices that minimize some and do what the "Townies" remember with great fondness - look out for one another like sisters and brothers. That will be a great day in America and we will be a greater community because of it.