The Dean's Discourse - January 2024
Department(s):The Business School
As we have recently celebrated the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday on January 15, 2024, I could not help but to reflect on Dr. King’s last and most prophetically haunting sermon, delivered on April 3, 1968. King talked about longevity and the desire to live a long life. But he also said that he was not worried about that because he simply wanted to do God’s will. God had allowed him to go up to the mountaintop, King declared, and because he had looked over, he had been given a glimpse of the Promised Land. King told an enthralled congregation that he may not get there with them, but that “We as a people would get to the Promised Land.”
On April 4, King was assassinated for having dared demand what a prospective president penned, that “All [people] are created equal.” Now, nearly 56 years later, so many are yet to get to the Promised Land. That land would be one where everyone, regardless of race, color, gender, sexual identity, or religion would be able to thrive without oppression or discrimination. That land would be one where people would seek to live together in harmony, even in the face of difference. That land would be one where we would lift one another so that all would have the opportunity to be their best selves and realize their greatest potential. Clearly, we are not there. But how might we come closer?
Hebrew scriptures often utilize agricultural metaphors to explain a concept. One such metaphor is a notion of breaking up the fallow ground of our hearts, making our hearts more receptive and open. I thought it a fitting analogy, providing a path by which we might come closer to that promised land. Thus, if we are to break up the fallow ground, I believe a first step is to uproot from our hearts the brush and shrubs of indifference. Indifference can seem innocuous, but it lulls us into a false sense of independence, allowing us to conclude that what affects one does not affect the other. It is reminiscent of the 1946 poem written by German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller, “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.” When we opt for indifference leading to inaction, we can become complicit in the inhuman acts that are inflicted upon others. But we must break up the fallow ground by eliminating such indifference, embracing the truth of King’s words that we are “tied together in a single garment of destiny.” When we see people in need, we must be moved by our common mutuality as human beings and act.
Secondly, we need to break up the hardness of our hearts. Soil that lies dormant can crust over and harden, making it less pervious to conditions. We are seeing such hardness at the borderbetween the US and Mexico. While there is a need for an orderly and fair immigration process, many have clearly forgotten that today’s immigrant were their fore parents mere decades ago. Throughout the history of this country, immigrants have come seeking new opportunities and freedoms. If we would take the time to reflect and recognize the commonality between those who came before and those who are seeking to come now, I believe we might reach a compassionate consensus that honors the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
Then we must prepare the soil by moving the large rocks, which stand as obstacles that block the way. Having built a house in Massachusetts, I learned how rocky the soil is. As the builders dug, they had to remove large rocks to lay the foundation. I liken the biases we hold to the rocks found on my property and in that spirit, we have to remove the biases if we want to put down a firm and lasting foundation.
As a teenager, I was hired by a company to work as a computer operator. I loved working in the computer lab where I had the responsibility of running various jobs and programming. After my first year, the company hired a young man to serve as a second operator and it became my job to train him. One day as I ran the payroll, I saw his pay stub and found that he was making more money than I. When I asked my boss why, I was told, “He’s a guy; he’s supposed to make more.” I was furious. But it underscored a persistent bias that still exists where pay equity is concerned, evidenced by the fact that in 2022, for every dollar earned by a White male, White women earned $.83, Black women earned $.70, and Latinas earned $.65. However, we must move past some of the rock-like biases that pervade our lives if we hope to reach the promised land. By removing the rocks, we are able to pave pathways of new possibilities, where we are positioned for progress.
Finally, having cleared the soil, we can sow good seeds. Good seeds are the seeds that move us to treat others as we want to be treated. Good seeds allow us to see our common humanity in one another. These seeds, planted in soil that has been freed of indifference, hardness, and bias, can grow unconstrained and as such bear good fruit. They produce a harvest of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, and self-control, characteristicsthat are also known as the fruit of the Spirit. Moreover, this harvest moves us closer to the ideal of which Dr. King spoke: the Beloved Community that is symbolic of the Promised Land. Truly, we are yet to find our way there. But as Dr. King said, having gone to the mountain top, that land is available and waiting for us. And as we persevere together, I am confident that we will get there.
Dean Debora Jackson