Evanston/North Shore

No time to sleep

by Donique McIntosh, Co-Director of Racial Justice Programs
Posted January 18, 2016


Every year, around the Martin Luther King holiday I read “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”.This year was no different. I sat down to read the famous essay so that I could reflect on it and think about its contemporary significance. While I found the essay personally meaningful, I didn’t find it as useful in shaping my thinking about our current realities as I did his last Sunday sermon.    

Dr. King delivered his last Sunday sermon just days before he was killed. In the sermon, entitled “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution”, Dr. King recounted the story of fictional character Rip Van Winkle who went to sleep and woke up twenty years later. The significance of the story, according to Dr. King is that Rip slept through a revolution. Dr. King wrote, “…the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up the mountain a revolution was taking place that at points would change the course of history- and Rip knew nothing about it: he was asleep. Yes, he slept through a revolution. And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses- that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.”

I believe there is a revolution happening in this country. I believe that people of color, and increasing numbers of white people have developed chronic racial injustice fatigue syndrome. They are, as civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “sick and tired of being sick and tired”. Across the country, coalitions of people from different racial and ethnic groups, socioeconomic levels, religious and spiritual backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities are joining together to transform this nation from what it is to what it should be. Organizations like Black Lives Matter, Dream Defenders, and Showing Up for Racial Justice are awake. What about us? Are we awake or are we sleeping through the revolution? If we’re asleep, what will wake us from our slumber? And, if we are awake, what do we use to join the revolution? What does the revolution require of us? I invite you to reflect on these questions with me as we observe the King holiday.

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