A blog post by Forest Whitaker on Martin Luther King Day

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter…” This quote from Martin Luther King Jr. has been a driving force for me, inspiring my years of activism in the name of the less fortunate, in attempts to uplift people who might have lost all hope. Today, many may view Martin Luther King as a character from their history books, a relic of the past, immortalized in black and white images. But to me, his legacy is still present, and active. Dr. King’s understanding of the deep divisions in our society at the time, and beliefs about how to approach them in a peaceful manner underpins my personal philosophy of nonviolence and the fostering of peace.

Dr. Kings colorblind understanding that all Americans are equal no matter their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or economic status, changed the world and started a conversation that is ongoing to this day. His words in support of equality also led to concrete actions, and it is through concrete action that the lives of people who suffer can be transformed, and a message of peace and love can be disseminated.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…” This message is as true today as it was when Dr. King delivered it 60 years ago. In America, and in many other places around the world, inequality is rife, people are suffering, communities are beholden to violence, and young peoples futures appear bleak. So when we think of Dr. King’s voice, what we think of most is hope. The timeless hope for which he advocated has continued to make waves today, and has driven the work of WPDI for the last decade. Time and time again, I’ve found that placing hope in young people to become empowered leaders and activists in their communities is a wonderful way to pay homage to Dr. King and all that he represented.

Resolving complex conflicts means being able to understand both the origins of and reasons for the conflict. In order to empower youths, education is critical. Teaching these young activists about different approaches to conflict resolution can show them  that conflict doesn’t have to result in violence and war. Conflict is a normal part of human nature. However, without the tools and skills to understand and diffuse situations that might turn violent, many young people in remote or disenfranchised areas have little chance to reconstruct their communities and their futures. Our global program of peace is therefore focused on education, and has spread to countries around the world from Uganda, to Mexico, to South Sudan, to the United States, and beyond. In every place where we act, a philosophy of nonviolence, as advocated for by Martin Luther King, is at the heart of our action.

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