Community

Listening as a Radical Act

Martin Luther King conference seeks to honor all voices

Attend

What: Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration

More:

What: Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration
When: 12pm Mon. Jan. 18
Where: Bellingham City Hall, 210 Lottie Street
More: Musical entertainment will be provided by the Kulshan Chorus. The Black National Anthem will be performed by Annika Wolters.
info: http://www.cob.org

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What: 18th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Conference 2016
When: 10am Sat., Jan. 16
Where: Whatcom Community College, Syre Student Center
Cost: Free
Info: http://www.whrtf.org

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A look back at the violence that marred much of 2015 suggests we all could do a better job of listening to one another. As Martin Luther King, Jr. observed in his speech The Other America, “a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? ...It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that [many in society] are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and [our common] humanity.”

If “We the People” are committed to creating a “More Perfect Union,” the voices of the marginalized must not be drowned by the din of demagoguery or rendered mute by the silence of indifference. If we ever hope to heal one another, we must be real with each other. However, first we must learn to listen as an act of love.

As a teacher, the holiday break provides time to reflect upon resolutions that will help me inspire students to create meaningful lives for themselves and make a difference in the lives of others. After reading Dave Burgess’ book Teach Like A Pirate, my resolution this year is to practice the secret to becoming a better lover. Do you want to know? Of course you do!

Now that I’ve got your attention, I’m obligated to share a caveat. The secret I’m about to share is applicable to love’s many manifestations. However, the kind of love I’m referring to does not necessarily involve reciprocity among family and friends. We can revisit this next Thanksgiving. Nor do I offer any advice about how to romance that special someone. Valentine’s Day is still a month away, so stay tuned.

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day approaching, I have a different kind of love in mind, one of reconciliation and redemption.

When I was young, I remember my dad schooling me on the secret to love. At the time he was sharing lessons learned living with my mom. The moral of his story: happy wife, happy life. However, his stories revealed a powerful principle: Instead of treating others the way you want to be treated, learn to treat others the way they want to be treated. This small shift in focus left a big impression at the time. Nevertheless, it has taken me a while to internalize how treating others the way I want to be treated is problematic. I have plenty examples of good intent gone bad. Just ask my wife. Though well-meaning, I now realize how self-centered the approach can be. Moreover, if employed habitually without awareness, the impact can feel insincere.

Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of a similar kind of self-centeredness and insincerity he felt from fellow clergymen who professed social justice as a matter of principle, yet privileged the status quo in practice. King described this feeling in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

“Shallow understanding from people of good will,” he noted “is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” Allies and advocates urged King to wait for “a more convenient season” to stand up and speak out. They wanted to avoid conflict; King wanted to achieve justice.

Reconciliation and redemption can be messy and uncomfortable. Seeing inside the heads and hearts of others requires us to close our mouths, open our ears, block out the noise, and tune into the message. Simply put, listen. This is the secret to becoming a better lover. Listening to learn to treat others the way they want to be treated involves intimacy. In other words, into-me-see.

Unfortunately, listening is easier said than done. I know I have room for improvement. Hence my resolution.

In the spirit of love, I invite you to celebrate 2016 by attending the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Conference. The theme of this year’s conference is “Listening as a Radical Act: Honoring All Voices.” This year’s keynote speaker is W.Tali Hairston, director of John M. Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development at Seattle Pacific University. Educational and skill-building workshops will follow the opening address.

In addition, this year’s conference includes the Youth Summit hosted by the New Wilderness Project, a musical performance group and arts-based education organization dedicated to developing youth leadership for equity and social justice. Wade Colwell-Sandoval and Benjie Howard, musicians, artists and trainers, will bring their blend of folk and hip-hop music and visual art to creatively explore race, culture, gender identity, economics, learning and leadership.

The conference will take place at Whatcom Community College’s Syre Center on Sat., Jan. 16. Doors open at 9:30am. The program begins at 10am and concludes at 3pm. More information is available at http://www.whatcompjc.org. I hope to see you there!

Joe Wooding is a teacher in the Bellingham School District and a member of Kulshan Middle School’s 8th grade team. He is a 2007 graduate of Woodring College at Western Washington University, with a masters degree in teaching.

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