Martin Luther King, Interrelatedness, Haiti

King wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail in April 1963, almost five years, to the day, before his assassination. The letter remains resonant for its poetry (“injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”) as well as for what’s implied in King’s very act of writing it: A letter can matter. Language is a powerful, and essential, element in all battles—violent and non-violent alike. Obama knows this now, and Dr. King knew it then: their words would be heard. And King’s vision—that we are all interconnected—is one that has perhaps even more meaning now than it did then. 

It seems that King meant, Americans are all connected. But we could read his words as easily to mean, everyone is connected. We see this in Haiti now. We see there is no room not to act. What would King say, looking on the devastation.


Here is the key passage from the Letter:

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. 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. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. 

Or, perhaps, without its bounds.

“Interrelatedness” is an excellent word; it’s so literary. And today it is directly applicable to what’s happening in Haiti. There is no way to consider what’s occurred there as distinct from our lives here (wherever “here” may be, but uniquely here in America. The loss is devastating, and it is critical not only to attempt to understand it but also to help relieve it. In this, we are an extension of King’s vision: that the game of progress is not about waiting for what’s right to arrive to all places, and to all peoples, but rather about being pro-active. Demand justice. Fight for it.

King’s Letter, barely less than seven thousand words long (which is long), moves us because it demonstrates the extent to which MLK was uniquely proactive. The man never let a minute pass wasted. In a jail cell, he composed a symphony. He realized the time was right to reinforce the “inescapable network of mutuality,” a concept worth returning to now.

*  *  *

Haitians will write more, and their words will collect another set of experiences from these past days. Madison Smartt Bell’s brilliant review of essential Haitian literature in The New York Review of Books, A Hidden Haitian World,” has been referenced in other recent pieces on Haiti, and is worth reading. It connects the Haitians future with aspects of King’s vision via connecting their future, explicitly, to the power of their words. Bell wrote:

Haitians carry an enormous burden of history, part of it proud and part of it atrocious, and both parts often inextricably mingled.

And he concludes:

Once upon a time, the Haitian revolutionary heroes were able to redress great wrongs by force of arms, but that time is long gone; when Trujillo's death squads began harvesting heads along the Massacre River, that time had already passed. What Haitians have to help them now is the great force of their spirit, the extraordinary power of their words.

This sounds familiar. And hopeful.

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less