By Chaim Harrison
As a Black Jew, I’ve found myself admittedly jaded whenever Martin Luther King, Jr. Day comes each year. This is not because I don’t admire and respect Dr. King, far from it. It’s because many think of this holiday as the end, not the means. Yes, Dr. King was integral in ending racial segregation, but that did not magically make systemic racism disappear: it just took on new forms.
Even today, almost 60 years after Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, racism is still alive and well. Black bodies are seen, consciously and subconsciously, as less than, as collateral. Over the past few years, I’ve lost count of how many innocent and unarmed Black folks have been unjustly assaulted or killed by law enforcement. According to the Human Rights Campaign, of the (at least) 33 trans people who were murdered in 2023, more than six in ten (61.8%) were Black trans women. Dr. King and his collaborators may have made a significant mark, but Black suffering has yet to go anywhere.
And yet, despite all of this, I choose to cling to hope. I choose to see Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a reminder to create the world I wish to see: through writing about my experiences, through reading and listening to Black stories, through public demonstration in the face of unjust laws, through funding and amplifying Black voices. I choose to draw inspiration from initiatives that place Black folks and other People of Color at the center, such as Keshet’s Queer Jews of Color (QJOC) Kinship affinity space and the Keshet Neshamot/Rainbow Souls Shabbaton, a celebratory and affirming Shabbat experience tailored specifically for Queer Jews of Color.
Further, I choose to see this day as the chance to remind everyone, especially white folks, that systemic racism is a public health crisis, and that we need dedicated allies and accomplices to dismantle it wherever it crops up (even, and especially, when it feels inconvenient to do so). Just as Jewish holidays focus not just on the days themselves but also how to think and act throughout the year, so too can we use this sacred day as an opportunity to fuel our fire and fight back throughout the year.
I hope that you choose to see today as the chance to grow as an advocate, to use your individual skills to bring about a world of peace, equity, and understanding, to live out Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream every single day.