Dare To Care: A Testament To Memory And Witness

By Beryl Wajsman on November 21, 2013

I think it is fair to state that what brought my colleagues and I into lifelong commitments to social advocacy was that we came to maturity during a period when we knew –viscerally - that the best people we would ever see in public life had been murdered. But it was not simply their killings that made us rage, though that would have been enough. It was not simply that the energy, charisma, eloquence and courage of Medgar and John, of Martin and Bobby had been ripped from us. It was the reason why these bold and resolute men found themselves in the line of fire. After all the theories of who or what killed them, it was really only one thing…they dared to care! 

They could have lived their lives differently. Though not all were children of privilege, they were all men of accomplishment. They could have continued careers in elective office, the law, the Ministry or in journalism. But they could not live with just that. They were moved by a rage instilled seemingly at birth in all people of goodwill. A rage against human suffering. A rage against injustice. A rage against want. It was a rage that stifles breath. A physical reaction. And it is that rage that moves the nobler part of our natures to action.

The echoes of their strivings come down to us today through the mists of a time not that long ago. They come in the words of a President who said at American University that we must do better because, “Our most basic common link it that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” And they come in the words of a Preacher from a Birmingham jail who pleaded with us to remember that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.. Injustice against any man, is a threat to justice for every man.”

They taught us that life is to be lived looking out for the other guy, not looking over our shoulder at the other guy. They taught us that a helping hand is not a handout. And they taught us that the vulnerable and unempowered are no less human and no less worthy of our compassion! In this age of ungracious self-absorption and inelegant self-aggrandizement, people need reminding of this. For today, the lesser angels of human nature seem too often too firmly in control.

We have done great things at the Institute. With our 4500 national members and associates we have brought hundreds of thousands into the food-bank network; organized social housing for thousands of families; gotten dozens of officials reprimanded or terminated for racism; advocated for and aided the mentally challenged; brought job-training to men and women without hope; brought mentoring to thousands of poor children; sent scores of paramedics to the Delta Relief Project during Katrina; organized the first Canadian action on Darfur; reformed bad laws and succeeded in having worse ones struck down. Our work has been recognized by a Martin Luther King, Jr. award for the promotion of human dignity; the plaque of merit from the International Academy of Law and Mental Health and the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for community service. Our work and views have been featured in national and North American media ranging from the National Post to Time magazine. We featured much of it in our last issue celebrating the 5th Anniversary edition of the The Metropolitain, the journal of the Institute. But that story can’t be left there..

For all the time, talent and treasure that our supporters have poured into our efforts, there are two weapons in our arsenal that have rallied people to action more than any other. Those weapons – those sparks – are memory and witness. They prick the conscience of all. They rouse all out of their lethargy. And this year cannot be allowed to pass without public testament to what has been and what can be every day of our lives. Fifty years since the murders of Medgar and John. Fifty years since the march. Forty-five years since Martin and Bobby were taken. For their sacrifices to have meaning, they must be commemorated every day and in every way in our individual actions and engagement. But sometimes, you have to do something on a broader scale. The community at large must be reminded. They must feel the loss and pain again, and be inspired again by the grandeur of individual possibility. People must be brought together to gain courage and hope once more so that from those emotions will flow the generosity of spirit that is the precursor to making gentle the life of this world.


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Beryl P. Wajsman

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