My first year of college, my randomly-assigned roommate was KC from Olympia, the biggest U2 fan I had ever met before (or since.)
I was more of a Bon Jovi girl, myself, but in the constant exposure to U2's entire discography, I found one song that spoke to me. To this day, I am unable to think about U2 without the lyrics to this song drifting out of memory.
As the child of aging hippies, I had been raised in a stew of liberalism and historical relevance. I could name at least half of the historical references in "We Didn't Start the Fire" and "American Pie", and this song hit me on the same heart string.
At 18, I thought I understood civil rights. I had attended the premiere showing of Spike Lee's "Malcolm X", and had even read the book. I had read Ellison's "Invisible Man". I had been weaned on tales of my father's days at Columbia during the 1968 student protests, about how students blockaded into their residence hall had to haul food and supplies up from Morningside Drive in baskets out their windows. (I did not hear then, but much later and from others, how my father was the first of his friends to let his feet follow his heart, slipping out of the building to march in the protest that week.)
Yes, I thought I know all about civil rights, just as I thought that the hard work had been done, and what was left was to continue melting everyone into the great melting pot that was American culture. I believed that with rap bands like Public Enemy calling attention to the travesty that was police response in minority neighborhoods, someone responsible would do something about it, and my generation could get on with inheriting a world worth living in.
What I started writing to say is that I grieve that Rev. King was killed just as he was reaching the prime of his life, just as he was beginning to call attention to the intersectionality of race and inequality and war as a distraction to them both. I grieve for the country we might have become if he had been allowed to continue his career.
I grieve, too, for hundreds of men and women who were killed before they could choose who they would become. The list includes Treyvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Blain Spry, but goes on and on - pages of young people who have lost lives to racism and inequality. None of us are at 18 the person we want to be judged by forever.
But the world does not need my grief. It needs dreamers who are willing to work together to create justice. It needs people who are willing to join in conversation, to listen and to hear each other's experience and to judge only what they know to be true, and not rumor or wishful thinking. It needs people willing to step up and be part of an international tradition of non-violence and social change.