"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." – Robert F. Kennedy, Cape Town, South Africa, June 6, 1966
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And tomorrow Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. It is very difficult to overstate the historic nature of what is about to take place. I intend to be on the Mall to bear witness to the moment.
A lot of thoughts are going through my mind tonight. Like everyone else I am glad tonight is the last night George W Bush will be sleeping at the White House. I had intended to write about all the ills of this outgoing administration – a summary of sorts. But I can’t garner the strength. I am glad it is over. But I am tired. I am tired of the lawlessness, tired of the brutality, tired of the callousness, and I am out of words for this sorry bunch of troglodytes.
I am tired, and my thoughts lay elsewhere.
For some reason I have been thinking a lot about a man named Stephen Biko today. In fact I have been thinking more about Biko than I have been about George W Bush today. I don’t know if you know about him, but he meant a lot to us in the 1980s when I was in college. He is not an American, I have never met him, and he had died long before I knew who he was.
Stephen Biko was beaten to death on September the 12th, 1977 while in custody of the South African police. He was 30 years old. In life he fought the apartheid regime in South Africa. He fought with his humanity and he fought with his courage. In death, he moved a world to open their eyes to the brutality and inhumanity of apartheid. He moved me. He moved me not only to care – he moved me to action. Like Bobby Kennedy’s ripples of hope, many around the world mobilized and joined hands to bring about the end of apartheid. Change did not come easy and it did not come quick, but it did come.
We live in a world today where oppression is commonplace – where brutality, torture and the murder of innocents have become the norm. We live in a world where the United States, by becoming what it once condemned, has lost its moral standing to speak out against injustice. We are in a desperate need to hear Stephen Biko’s cry for freedom from three decades ago. We are in desperate need of change. And the United States can and must help lead that change.
Tonight as we tip from a regime of humiliation to a future with hope, I see possibility. I see hope and I see the possibility of change. So tomorrow, when Barack Obama places his hand on the Bible, I will think of change and I will think of Stephen Biko who made me believe that change is always possible.