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Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every year, on the third Monday of January, our nation honors the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This commemoration is meaningful to Families as Allies for many reasons, in part because Dr. King’s legacy created a framework to include the civil rights of people with mental illness. We also believe that it is important to examine the impact of racism and disparities on the issues families and children repeatedly face. Dr. King’s words keep us mindful of that priority.

Reflecting on the civil rights of people with mental illness is particularly relevant this year. The State of Mississippi is currently working with the United States Department of Justice to craft a settlement to address a 2016 lawsuit that Mississippi lost in 2019. In that case, Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that Mississippi violates the civil rights of people with mental illness because there are not enough of the right kinds of supports to help people with mental illness live in the community if they would like to. We look forward to learning more about this proposed settlement and how it includes and partners with people receiving services and their families.

Dr. King’s birthday is being observed in the midst of unprecedented times in our country. I wondered repeatedly what Dr. King would say if he were here with us right now. I don’t know.  But as I read different speeches of his, I was struck by the relevance of these excerpts from his address at Penn State on January 21, 1965 on the future of integration. I hope they are meaningful to you too.  The italicized text is directly quoted from his speech.

… But I must honestly say to you tonight, my friends, that there are some things in our nation and some things in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted, in which I call all men of goodwill to be maladjusted until the good society is realized …

So it may well be that our world is in dire need of a new organization, the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment, men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”; as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free; as maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could etch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”; as maladjusted as Jesus Christ, who could say to the men and women around the hills of Galilee, “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you,” and who could go on to say, “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Through such maladjustment, we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice …

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