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Commemorating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Dear Members of the Santa Clara University Community, 

This year, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at an important and painful moment in our nation’s history. We reckon with the recent insurrection at the Capitol, which included white supremacists. The disparate preparations for and treatment of the riotous mob, compared to last summer’s peaceful protests for racial justice, only aggravated the pain. At the same time, the pandemic rages at its worst levels in our year-long struggle, with communities of color suffering disproportionately from the pandemic’s economic toll and health impacts. 

At this moment, I’m reminded of Dr. King’s last speech. In Memphis, on April 3, 1968 -- a day before he was killed -- he said, 

“Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, ‘If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.’ Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding. Something is happening in our world.” 

We have known much darkness these months, but Dr. King is right. God is working in and through us now. The dawn breaks. Democracy stands. Movements for racial justice quicken. Vaccinations await us. A new administration offers an opportunity to find common ground for the common good. And hopefully soon, we will be together again on campus, continuing to grow a Santa Clara community of generous encounter -- a beloved community. 

I write not with naive optimism but with persistent hope. This hope, which fueled the civil rights movement, takes reality and the cost of the struggle seriously but sees in it the promise that things can be better with the help of God and one another. The MLK holiday invites each of us to reflect on how we can be agents of justice and reconciliation and join efforts to build an anti-racist university. 

Not far from the Capitol stands a monument to Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2006, Congressman John Lewis spoke at the monument’s groundbreaking. Lewis walked and marched and bled with King and laid in state at the Capitol after he died last year. He closed his remarks at the groundbreaking with these words fitting for us to hear today: 

“Above all this monument will serve as a reminder to each of us that it is better to love and not to hate. It is better to reconcile and not to divide. It is better to build and not to tear down. It will remind all of us that the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. is not yet accomplished. And each of us must continue to do our part to help build the beloved community, a nation and a world at peace with itself.” 

On a final note, I invite you to join a prayer service, “Upholding the Legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Establishing the Beloved Community at SCU” on January 18th at noon PST.

In solidarity and hope,

Kevin F. O'Brien, S.J.

 ‘Stone of Hope’, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington DC


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