“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
This quote, from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Commencement Speech at Oberlin College, was more than just a spirited attempt to welcome a group of soon-to-be alumni into the professional, post-graduate world. In 1965, these words relayed the urgent message of coming together at a time where our country could not have been more divided.
These words still ring true today at a time where a global pandemic and racial tensions are dividing the world in every way – politically, economically, racially, and spiritually. Our world has been completely transformed. The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many others have brought attention to the difficult truth that our country is not yet the bastion of equality we wish it to be. The remaining felt effects of COVID-19 have perhaps become normalized, but are no less powerful. It is a unique time to be alive in our country and the events in our recent history will have a lasting impact for years to come.
Whether you have lost a job, family member, friend, or are simply grappling with the current racial landscape in our country, there is no denying the transition we are all experiencing. Our lives are completely different than they were just a few months ago. This time has forced us to consider our common humanity and just how much we value the lives of those around us – is coming together really worth it?
One certain thing is that unity isn’t easy. True unity takes sacrifice, the belief that temporary loss can lead to greater gain. It takes the lowering of our guard and accepting that we cannot do it alone and need help. It requires that we see things as they really are and not just what they could be. Ultimately, unity is a choice of displacement – leaving the comfortable borders of what is known and familiar to enter into an unknown place of vulnerability.
The great cost of unity is one that we believe is well worth it. We believe that in many ways, unity is the first step to truly understanding our neighbors, and a necessary one to truly be present in the ways we desire. We believe that together, we can accomplish far more than is possible apart. Through the representation of unique and often overshadowed perspectives, we can create solutions with empathy and genuine understanding. Through collaboration and diverse teams, we can see transformation take shape for everyone involved in the process. Through standing united, we have the opportunity to be known more for what we do represent and less for what our differences may say about us.
Dr. King’s words ring truer today, 50 plus years later, more than ever before. Regardless of political affiliation, socioeconomic class or any other classification, our world is undeniably connected to all those around us. The recent events that have taken place in our country only further demonstrate this reality. Given the current climate of our city and country, we are faced with many questions that have gone unanswered. However, there may be two that are most helpful to give clarity. Who do we want to become? What are we going to do about it?
As we courageously move towards unity, we find that there are others waiting for us and that we are not alone. Unified, we can change the reality in front of us – a better future that is just within reach. The choices we make today will shape our tomorrow. We are here, standing in solidarity, united, hoping for a better Portland. Every conversation matters. Every dollar. Every hour spent volunteering. Whatever you have to give, there is a place for it. Today, there is an opportunity to take a step toward unity and a leap toward becoming the person our friends and city need you to be.
At Refugee Care Collective, we believe that the mission of caring for refugees belongs to all people. We recognize that we cannot have the kind of impact we know is possible, without partnering with one another. It takes people of goodwill and people of faith, those with varying political opinions and cultural backgrounds, both businesses and organizations, all coming together to accomplish something that none of us could apart: loving our neighbors and showing up for those rebuilding their lives in our city, in radical, hope-filled and life-altering ways. It’s in this kind of coming together, this kind of unity and collective that will bring transformation to both our city and our world. Will you join us on this journey?