Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., A Man for All Nations. His words and his message are timeless. They are an indelible part of the permanent and indispensable voice of our conscience. As long as these inequalities and disparities among peoples, nations, and continents, continue to exist, I am entitled to say that there is an unfinished peace on Earth; there is an unfinished democracy on Earth. Ultimately, there is an unfinished dream.
His message transcended geographic, ethnic and cultural boundaries. The roar and ripple of his words stretched across oceans and seas, mountains and valleys, deserts and savannahs, and spoke to people like myself who had never met him.
In his Birmingham jail cell he wrote, “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment . . . . . is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”
Aeschylus, in Prometheus-bound, describes the cry of Prometheus as follows,
“I knew when I transgressed nor will deny it
In helping Man, I brought my troubles on me.”
Sophocles also put similar words in the mouth of his reluctant heroine, Antigone, who said: “I will not obey an unjust law, and if something happens because of it – so be it.”
A few months ago, Francoise, my wife, and I, visited Birmingham. During my tenure as Ambassador of Greece to the United States I paid my respects to the struggle for freedom and equal rights enshrined in Birmingham’s central square, The Civil Rights Museum, and the churches.
King’s words are not only relevant today, but an inspiration and guide for current challenges. In the ancient Greek tradition, an individual must partake in the responsibility and concerns of all society. So does Martin Luther King tell us that, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
He also said:
“As long as there is poverty in the world, I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars.”
“As long as disease is rampant, and millions of people around the world cannot expect to live more than 30 years, I can never be totally healthy.”
“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.”
There is a moral obligation transcending borders to stand united and join forces, efforts, and provide the necessary means to make it possible for our children’s and grandchildren’s generations to live in a better world.
We see people millions of dying of hunger.
We see millions of people dying of pandemic and epidemic diseases.
We see people killed on religious or ethnic grounds.
We see millions of innocent human beings as the victims of human trafficking, exploited in the most odious form of modern slavery.
In the twenty-first century, none of us can argue that this same message is no longer applicable. Beginning his last speech, known as “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” on April 3 in Memphis, Dr. King said, “I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympos. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality, but I wouldn’t stop there.”
* Recipient (January 2007) of the Martin Luther king International Legacy Award.