Reflections from a justice organizer on MLK Day

By Grace Kindeke

On Jan. 16, New Hampshire community members gathered in Manchester for the 41st Martin Luther King Jr. Day Community Celebration hosted by the NH MLK Coalition. AFSC's Grace Kindeke was presented the 2023 Martin Luther King Jr. Award for her work as an activist, artist, and community organizer. For the past three years, she has organized with AFSC New Hampshire for the rights and well-being of immigrants and detained and incarcerated people. She also advocates for equitable and dignified access to affordable housing, fair wages, worker’s rights, and education, particularly among historically under-served communities.  

Grace delivered the following speech at the MLK Celebration:

I am deeply honored and grateful to be the recipient of this year’s award. My many thanks to the MLK coalition for the recognition and their dedication and hard work in organizing and coordinating this celebration, to my colleagues who nominated me and my deep felt gratitude and love to the communities and families I am a part of and most especially to the beloved people (my husband, my mother, my team and my chosen family of friends and relatives) those I am connected to who inspire, drive and enable me to do the work to uplift, heal, strengthen, support, protect and build the communities that we fight alongside with and for.  

Walking in the footsteps of MLK

When Martin Luther King Jr Day became a state holiday, I was a 7th grade student at the Derryfield School in Manchester. I learned about Dr. King at home, not in school. For many years, a portrait of Rev. Dr. King with quotes from his “I have a dream speech” hung on the walls of the home my mother and I shared. A constant reminder of one ancestor’s work to liberate our people and bring to life a vision of a world children like me, who hadn’t even been born yet, could grow and thrive in. 

I come from a politically active family and I grew up in a community that frequently organized to support each other through complex immigration processes, provide much needed child and elder care, address frequent and ongoing workplace mistreatment, and rally resources to send back home to support everything from school fees to political elections. I am honored to be one of the many walking in the footsteps of Rev. Dr. King and the ancestors who came before and paved the paths I now lay my own stones upon.

The blueprint

Theirs is the blueprint I ground myself in when standing in the rain and the snow outside the offices of elected leaders demanding fair and humane treatment; theirs is the blueprint I ground myself in while accompanying immigrant community members to court appearances and ICE check ins; theirs is the blueprint I ground myself in when advocating for humane policies at City Hall; theirs is the blueprint I ground myself in the State House and in DC; theirs is the blueprint I ground myself in while raising awareness about the unjust treatment of homeless communities, incarcerated and detained people. 

Seeds of hope

Rev. Dr. King underscored the importance of not “segregating one’s moral concerns”. It is imperative that we look upon the many facets of injustice and confront it unblinkingly, unapologetically in order to fight for an end to the conditions of poverty, racism, exploitation and exclusion. The beloved community is the community that takes care of each other, that courageously confronts inequities and disparities and goes beyond conversation to implementation by investing resources into humane and supportive infrastructure rather than relying on systems of punishment, surveillance, displacement, separation, isolation and abuse to solve our most persistent and widespread problems.

Dr. King reminds us that we must do the right thing, even if it’s not easy, popular or politically expedient. We do not have to wait for some mythic time when there will be enough. We have enough here and we have enough now to do what needs to be done in our towns and cities, our own backyards and neighborhoods, and in our hearts and minds. No one person can do it all (no one person is meant to do it all) but we each must do our part, no matter how small or mighty. We must each show up with the humility to learn from those who are most directly impacted. The courage to imagine a better way. And the fiery resilience to do whatever it takes to turn that vision into action in order to reach the mountain top together. Thank you.