[In May and June of 2020, a time of pandemic isolation, economic collapse, and intense partisan rivalry, videos of Minneapolis cops lynching George Floyd — a Black man with his hands cuffed behind his back — sparked nationwide mass protests against widespread police brutality and systemic racism in America.]
I want to thank the organizers of this Black Lives Matter demonstration for inviting me to speak. Thanks for the confidence.
We are gathered here today standing apart because of the pandemic of the corona virus. I want to talk today about another deadly violent virus. A deadly virus that is as old as mankind and is to be found everywhere. There are people who are carriers of the disease. They don't even know they have it, but they spread it. Children are the least infected but as they grow older they become more and more susceptible to the disease effects. It affects rich and poor, all ethnic groups, all nationalities and all levels of society. There are both acute and chronic forms of the disease.
Unlike the corona virus, for which at this moment we have neither a vaccine or a medicine, the good news is that a doctor has found a medicine and vaccine that works to reduce the effects of this Racism and Discrimination disease. The good news is that the ingredients for this cure are boundless and like air costless. So now I would like to tell you something about this doctor whom I knew personally as well as the medicine that he discovered. Of course, I'm talking about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the medicine he developed is called Nonviolent Social Change. The medicine that he made combines the Spirit of Universal Love and the techniques of Gandhi.
I'm Harcourt Klinefelter. I am an American by birth and a Netherlander by choice. Dr. King is mostly remembered for his speech "I have a dream". When he was assassinated in 1968 the world lost a prophet but I also lost a friend. As media director and Assistant Director of Public Relations I knew him as my employer, the Minister of the church where I went on Sundays and as a personal friend. What was he like? At one point Mrs. King invited me to stay for diner. When Dr. King came in I said: "Dr. King, I do not feel worthy to sit at the same table with you." He looked at me and said: "Now Harcourt, you make it necessary for me to make a long speech about how all people are equal".
I am wearing black today for the funeral of George Floyd, this week.
I'm also wearing black for victims who died because they couldn't breathe because of neck holds so as Eric Gardner.
I'm wearing black for the victims of the corona virus who couldn't breath.
I am wearing black because of the refugees who couldn't breathe under the sea.
I'm wearing black for women and others in locked in suffocating relationships.
I'm wearing black for the poor locked in airtight cages of poverty in an affluent society.
When I look into this crowd I see a wonderful picture of the future. I see black and white, young and old, all kinds of religions together. I see people of all kinds of ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations together. At a time when we cannot be close physically we are close in spirit. A spirit of protest against the evils of racism and police brutality.
We all discriminate and are discriminated against. Here in the Netherlands, where I have been living for over 4 decades, even I, as a white man, has been subject to both positive and negative discrimination simply because I am seen as a symbol of the land where I happened to be born. Positively by those how remember the liberation of the Netherlands in Second World War. Negatively by those who remember the Vietnam War and now president Trump.
Even though I have worked with Dr King for three years, lived in the ghetto and have been fighting racism with all my heart and soul for decades, I can not say that I am completely free from racism. I can only say that I am more aware of my unconscious racist traits and can continue to fight them.
If one says "I have no prejudices," he or she is like an alcoholic who says I don't have a problem with drinking. As Dr King said "We see people as Jews or Gentiles, Catholics or Protestants, Chinese or American, Negroes or whites. We fail to think of them as fellow human beings made from the same basic stuff, molded in the same divine image."
If he was here today he would say, that it is important that we move away from just vague generalities and move on into concrete action, keeping always in mind nonviolent tactics. At one point he told me: "Things will not change directly, but it will change the people who participate in these protests. When they go home they will act differently and this change will carry on in families, neighborhoods, schools, sports clubs, workplaces, etc." As Stokeley Carmichael [of SNCC], said to me after an evening of conversation: "Talk to white folks, help them change their attitudes."
Today, all over the world statues are being torn down;
Figures of slaveholders and slave handlers ripped apart,
Representations of the people who have committed crimes against humanity knocked down to the ground.
Earlier this week, a statue that had been secretly placed in a park in Amsterdam when the city council refused to accept it, has been declared legal and it can remain there. The statue is of Dr. King, and it stands in the Martin Luther King Park in Amsterdam and is created by artist Airco Caravan. It is not enough to say that we want to end discrimination or to kick out Black Pete. We need to take actions that can lead to real social change. So let us now further the Dream in our time by building bridges instead of walls, putting our words into actions:
We can't all be a Martin Luther King, but we all can be a Rosa Parks.
So as we go home today, keeping physical distance but being united in spirit, go and inject in this virus when you may encounter it the medicine of Dr. King
May You Stay Strong in the Spirit that Overcomes.
Copyright © Harcourt Klinefelter, 2020
[Rev. Harcourt Klinefelter is author of a book entitled "The life of Peace Apostle Harcourt Klinefelter — Globalizing the dream of Martin Luther King Jr."]
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