​​​​​​​​​​​On this historic Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as we look towards the inauguration of our next president, a reckoning is awakened inside us. As hate groups declare victory, and our most vulnerable populations are under siege, we are forced to look at the collective unconscious of our nation. At this pivotal moment, we don’t have the luxury of allowing our ancestor’s decisions—choices that embedded injustices into the very fabric of our nation—to remain unconscious.  

In this second part of our conversation with Wesley Lowery, he juxtaposes our national guilt in facing our “original sin of slavery” with our urge to prove we are better now. We want so desperately to show that we wouldn’t have made the same decisions of our forefathers.  

There is an alternate path to healing, Wesley suggests. This path is not based in guilt, but instead, motivated by empathy. Actions motivated by the power of love in empathy rather than shame-inducing guilt have richer transformational potential. 

At Obama’s farewell address last week, he, too, urged empathy when he quoted a great protagonist of 20th century literature: Atticus Finch.  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Wesley goes even further: lack of empathy, he believes, is one of our greatest inhibitors to justice. 

Reading and listening to Wesley Lowery, it’s clear that his empathy is expansive. His brand of generous compassion includes all facets of our nation’s broken systems and the people impacted by them. 

His empathy opens to the motives of the protesters . . . and to the police, who face dangerous challenges of understanding rapidly changing communities, and whose freedom is inextricably linked with the community members they are called to protect and serve . . . and most significantly to the grieving mothers and fathers he encounters almost daily.

One of Dr. King’s tenants of nonviolence state that “Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.” 

Dr. King challenged us to love our enemies: “While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist.” To live this out requires muscular empathy. Wesley reminds us that when we have been courageous enough to look at our most entrenched systemic divisions and face the inequality head on, we all rise. All boats are lifted. The unseen force that connects us awakens and frees us all. 

Dr. King and the civil rights movement taught us these lessons.  With two steps forward and one step back, our nation has learned and changed and grown. But we have so much further to go. Our generation now has leaders like Wesley Lowery who carry those messages forward. 

The challenge is ours to accept: to listen with empathy, to let go of guilt, and to face our reality with unflinching courage.

Follow @WesleyLowery on Twitter or read his new book "They Can't Kill Us All": Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement.


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This week's story is the second part of our conversation with WESLEY LOWERY, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of the new book They Can't Kill Us All