Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – whose birthday we celebrate this week – once had these words to say about a country bitterly divided: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
For Pastor Michael McBride, these words carry more than historical significance. They are imbued with a message of hope that he draws on when talking to young people today who are feeling discouraged, disillusioned, even fearful about some of the recent rhetoric bubbling up across the country.
“We all have to stay very much engaged,” he said. “We have to see this moment as an opportunity to allow our values and a radically inclusive vision for our society to emerge.”
Pastor Mike, as he’s known, has had opportunity to hone those values and vision through his work to end gun violence and mass incarceration, from counseling youth on the streets of Oakland, California to advising the White House on faith-based and neighborhood partnerships. He is the director of the Live Free Campaign — a movement of inter-faith organizations and congregations committed to addressing the root causes of violence and crime in communities of color.
He is also a member of the Levi Strauss Foundation’s new class of Pioneers in Justice, Pioneers 2020 – next-generation social justice leaders who are innovating through the power of networks and technology and mobilizing their voices across sectors.
The lessons he has learned from years of helping people at odds find common ground are proving particularly valuable these days.
One of those crucial lessons is that people are rarely as far apart as they think they are, he said. “As difficult as it can be at times, part of our work is to be reminded that those we may think of as our antagonists, our enemies, actually share similar fears and anxieties about the quality of their life and the lives of the ones they love.”
Finding those shared motivations isn’t always easy, he admitted with a laugh. “We have to be deep listeners. We have to listen more than it feels good to listen.”
Through Live Free’s new initiative to build trust and understanding between law enforcement and the communities they serve, Pastor Mike has seen the importance of questioning our own biases, and including every voice in the solutions that are created.
“Nobody is a throwaway,” he said. “Not Pookie on the street, or the police officers working on those same streets. “
But how do we take these lessons and turn them into positive action as the country moves into an uncertain future?
Listen more, Pastor Mike says. Love more. Empathize more. Maintain an unwavering commitment to justice and fairness – and do something about it. “We shouldn’t take for granted how small, local acts of compassion and love can create momentum across the city, state and country,” he said.
And when all else fails, remember the lessons of Dr. King and the struggles of the past.
Every era of progress has been accompanied by a “pushback by the status quo to try to recapture a bygone era,” he said. “If we recall that history, we will not be surprised to the point of paralysis. Rather, we will roll up our sleeves as our ancestors have done, and we will continue the work that must be done.”