Since 2000, every state in our nation has declared the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday. In Maine, as in many other states, this holiday of observance and remembrance has increasingly become an opportunity for Americans to engage in hands-on community service. Together, with thousands of other Mainers, we hold fast to keeping alive Dr. King’s vision of creating “a beloved community.”

Dr. King preached and wrote extensively about nonviolence. He developed six principles for living nonviolently, one of which is “nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.”

In a nation, and a world, that is increasingly divided by fear and hatred, I believe we Mainers share something quite special: We are a remarkably relational state.

For example, our members of Congress are known and familiar to us. Our governor has sent a message with refreshingly new signs posted at our border crossings reading “Welcome Home.” We are united in our deep appreciation for our state’s natural beauty. In many areas of Maine we are making new neighbors  with “new Mainers,” whose presence and integration into our lives and society bring with them the invitation to embody Dr. King’s principle “to win friendship and understanding.” In our living, speaking and listening we create and sustain relationships. In fact, these relationships — whether they’re built across how we differ or what we share in common — are the foundation upon which we build the “beloved community” and work toward racial healing.

In several of Dr. King’s sermons he preached about the ongoing work of replacing fear with courage. He believed there are two antidotes to fear: faith in God and involvement with each other. The latter opens up doors for each of us to win friendship and understanding (Dr. King’s second principle of nonviolence).

In one memorable sermon he spoke about Mother Pollard, an elderly citizen of Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to protesting segregation. After having walked to work for several weeks during the bus boycott, Mother Pollard was asked if she was tired. She said, according to Dr. King: “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”

Dr. King’s sermon continued: “On a particular Monday evening, following a tension-packed week which included being arrested and receiving numerous threatening telephone calls, I spoke at a mass meeting. I attempted to convey an overt impression of strength and courage, although I was inwardly depressed and fear-stricken.

“At the end of the meeting Mother Pollard came to the front of the church and said, ‘Come here, son.’ I immediately went to her and hugged her affectionately. ‘Something is wrong with you,’ she said. ‘You didn’t talk strong tonight.’ Seeking further to disguise my fears, I retorted, ‘Oh no, Mother Pollard, nothing is wrong. I am feeling as fine as ever.’

“But her insight was discerning. ‘Now you can’t fool me,’ she said. ‘I knows something is wrong …’ Before I could respond, she looked directly into my eyes and said, ‘I done told you we is with you all the way.’ ”

One of Maine’s strongest assets is our innate ability to connect with each other. We are interested in people, and curious to learn how others think, act or speak. We are quick to let people know, however, through our actions if not our words, the truth Mother Pollard conveyed to Dr. King: “with you all the way.” We are there for each other.

Peace and reconciliation may seem impossibly elusive, and certainly we have challenges in Maine. We are, however, uniquely enriched by our abundant interconnections and relationships at work in the “beloved communities” we call home —  each is a poignant illustration of one way to keep MLK Day front and center in our lives, every day, every year.

With you all the way.


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