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January 16, 2023

My Struggle Has Become Our Struggle

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

Those words come from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. They’re an example of what made his approach to creating social change successful. Dr. King focused on appealing to the consciences of all Americans – the belief that most people are good and want to do the right thing.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, people are encouraged to use the day to reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change espoused by Dr. King.

For George Porter, Dr. King’s legacy impacts his personal story: “My struggle has become our struggle.”

Porter, communications consultant senior, Appalachian Power, submitted these six words to AEP’s Currents of Change Heritage Short Stories contest, which ran from mid-October to the end of November. Contest rules restricted story length to just six words, challenging employees to highlight the heart of their story.

Porter is a Black man who lives in southwestern Virginia. He’s in an interracial marriage with a blended family. He has four children who are white, black and mixed race.

Interracial marriage has been legal in Virginia for less than 60 years. Virginia’s law banning interracial marriage was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1967, a year before Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed.

“I think about our past, as a black man, and I think about where we’re going. For the longest time we’ve always felt like it was a battle for ourselves, but the recent social unrest that happened during the pandemic shined a light on the struggle that we’ve been dealing with and it seems like more people understand our struggle,” Porter said. “We’re never going to make progress alone. We need help from everyone. History will never change without help from other people.”

Dr. King’s legacy is one that weaves its way into the daily fibers of Porter’s life at home. Dr. King was an advocate of using nonviolent resistance to effect social change. That’s one of the many reasons Porter sees education and conversation as key to helping people better understand the experiences of others.

“I don’t believe anyone is born with hatred in their heart. It’s something that is taught,” Porter said. “Discrimination is something that can be changed through experience and conversations. Education on how people live and believe, the oppressions or struggling they’ve been through, can help us all have more empathy for others.”

It’s been almost sixty years since Dr. King wrote Letter from Birmingham Jail and his words are still relevant today. The decision to take action or remain silent on the sidelines, impacts the lives of others.

“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

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