I was three years old in a small town of the North Woods of Minnesota when that speech took place at the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. In growing up, I never knew anything about racism in the sense of white or black. There was a Jewish family on our street. Their son Neil, a few of months older than me, was a good friend. Little did I know at the time that I had a long Jewish heritage (mom, grandmother, great-grandmother…). They invited me to a Passover meal. I thought it was all wonderfully mysterious. If anything, I was put off by division among Christians. I was and am Catholic.
Since then, I’ve often met up with violent racism and bigotry and am always sickened by it. I’ve met plenty of it down in Louisiana, plenty in New York, and most abundantly here in the back ridges of the National Forests of Western North Carolina, where my parish is spread out among three of the most remote counties. Plenty of KKK. I feel it in a personal way, as the KKK would just as soon kill a Catholic as a black man, or kill a Jew as a black man. I’m Catholic and a Jew and hate racism with a deep passion.
One deeply ignorant fellow had me cornered in the back of a certain back-woods mechanic shop some months ago menacingly accusing me of being a n*****-lover. Fortunately, I can handle myself in such situations. Another, a civilly powerful fellow, who should know better, boasted to me with great pride as he leaned back in his over-sized office chair just how it is that a black man could easily get himself killed without any recrimination for the murderers. Those who burned down our little Catholic church near the Court House in Robbinsville some decades ago would surely only be in their mid-late 60s now. Those who dragged a black man from Robbinsville for 12 miles to the county border at the Topton bridge – at which point they cut loose whatever was left – would surely only be in their mid-late 60s by now. But more than this, Latinos are the new black men, as it were, and since my little parish boasts of a lively Latino membership, there is another edge to some of the idiocy that one might encounter on a day to day basis.
So, do I share Martin Luther King Jr’s dream? Yes, I do. I make it my own for those of whatever color, of whatever religion, of whatever background or ethnicity. Jesus redeemed all and desires that the many be saved. He wants us to share with others the greatest love of our lives, Christ Jesus, Divine Son of the Immaculate Conception.