Solidarity Urban protest street art sticker by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

MLK Day 2022: Reflections on Solidarity and Connection

By Isra Pananon Weeks

It’s cliché, but we need to do better. I need to do better.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I cannot help but think about the many companies and organizations scrambling to draft their yearly MLK quotes for social media posts and advertisements. The same happens in February for Black History Month, to which the same companies and organizations will hustle to attract guest speakers for their yearly ‘lunch and learns’ and staff gatherings. I’m not exempt from these activities — I’m also guilty of planning similar events to try to promote diversity through carefully crafted internal emails and educational talks. Reflecting upon this, I could have done better throughout the years to promote meaningful conversations with colleagues and friends, which is a much better strategy to encourage human connection, understanding, and deep listening. 

Having meaningful conversations starts with self-education, a deep dive into history and relating your own lived experiences to these moments in time.  

This year, I’m thinking a lot about Asian and Black solidarity. As a second generation South Asian woman, I admittedly (and shamefully) don’t know a lot about the relationship between Black and Asian Americans and can’t recall specific examples of solidarity and allyship from history. After an internet search, an oped by Van Jones summed up several key examples between our communities. The example that struck me the most is the work and life of Grace Lee Boggs, the great civil and labor rights activist. She spent her entire existence advocating for many issues in concert with her husband, James Boggs, while approaching her work through an intersectional lens. 

Another example new to me was that Frederick Douglass served as an immigration advocate for Chinese immigrants. Over 100 years ago he proclaimed, “A smile or a tear has not nationality; joy and sorrow speak alike to all nations, and they, above all the confusion of tongues, proclaim the brotherhood of man.” I know of Frederick Douglass through history books and as an abolitionist, but not as an advocate for Asian Americans. So, what can we learn from these moments and leaders like Grace Lee Boggs and Frederick Douglass who did more than host “lunch and learns?” 

We should strive for less performance and more self-reflection and meaningful engagements.

As a social worker and circle keeper, I believe that we should commemorate MLK Day with daring conversations with ourselves and others. I believe that restorative justice techniques – like circles – belong in the workplace so that we move beyond being “talked to” and begin the process of understanding the true meaning of solidarity. Instead of highlighting quotes and showing videos, a better technique is to dissect Dr. King’s writings and structure conversations around personal experiences. It’s not hard to plan, but it’s hard to do. It’s a practice we must cultivate and I am committed to doing better. 

*Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash