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Roxbury Pastor On MLK Day This Year: 'We Are Called In This Moment To Step Up To This Moment'06:14
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Martin Luther King Jr., during a speech in an undated photo. (AP Photo)
Martin Luther King Jr., during a speech in an undated photo. (AP Photo)

The nation honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday. And this year's holiday for the slain civil rights leader occurs during a burst of political violence, a vigorous racial justice movement, and a pandemic disproportionately affecting people of color.

Reverend Willie Bodrick II is the senior pastor at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury — King’s home church for a stretch in the early 1950s, where he worshipped and served as an assistant minister while he studied for his theology doctorate at Boston University.

Bodrick spoke with WBUR’s Weekend Edition.

Interview Highlights

On using King's words to help him guide his congregation through this turbulent time:

This moment has been one of difficulty. It's been one of strife, one of confoundment for so many. But yet what we pull from King is that in the face of great difficulty, we can be resilient, that we can still stand for righteousness, and that we still must center justice in all that we do so that we can bring about the healing that this nation needs.

On the state of the nation on this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday:

This has been a time where the preexisting conditions that King talked about...have again emerged in this particular season and have been exposed by this pandemic, but also been exposed by the racism that we've seen. We saw the Capitol sieged in the midst of a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities.

A man holds a photo of Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial during the Racial Injustice March on Washington, Friday Aug. 28, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
A man holds a photo of Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial during the Racial Injustice March on Washington, Friday Aug. 28, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

But what has been a twin pandemic has been the racism that we've seen, the vitriol that we've seen, the double standards that we have seen. And so I think what King reminds us of is that as far as we've gone, we've also seen that we have so much further to go. That the wounds of our past, the wounds of white supremacy and the racism and vitriol and hatred, the chasm between progress and those who are seeking to regress this country in many ways is still very large. And undergirding many of the arguments and the feelings that we have seen manifest into violence is still a central issue of race.

On one message from King that he is turning to for guidance and strength to meet today's challenges:

[King] said darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. And hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.... What I've been thinking about a lot as I've been grappling with our sociopolitical... dynamics, is: how do we continue to show love, but ensuring that we show love in a way that speaks truth to power? Because this same King that talked about that radical ethic of love is the same King that says injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

On stepping away from despair when observing the pattern in U.S. history of Black progress provoking white supremacy:

I hold onto the legacy of my ancestors. I understand the truth and the veracity of what progress means in the American context.

Reverend Willie Bodrick II, the Senior Pastor at the 12th Baptist Church in Roxbury, MA.
Reverend Willie Bodrick II, the Senior Pastor at the 12th Baptist Church in Roxbury, MA.

When he was fighting in Alabama and he was standing on those steps in Montgomery …[King] was asking, ‘How long are we going to be dealing with these things?’ And he was really dealing and grappling with the questions that people were feeling, the angst that people were feeling, the anxieties they were feeling about the fact that there's always been a segment of white vigilantism as a response to progress.

The way in which I've been able to grapple with it is knowing that this is as American as apple pie. It is a part of the progress that we must make. And the question becomes, how do we in this time deal with and how do we address it and knowing that this is present with us? And so I don't get too down because my ancestors have [seen] it through.

On how King's message of love, freedom, equality, and justice resonates in 2021:

I'm originally from Atlanta, Georgia, born and raised in the same city as Dr. King. I'm a preacher’s kid just like King. And I think what I'm reminded of is...how we are called in this moment to step up to this moment. King's issues were very much similar to ours but different in so many ways. But I think that moment called for a leader such as him. And I think this moment calls for us to step up to our time.

This segment aired on January 17, 2021.

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