These words by one of the great leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement speak to the heart of what social justice should be about. However, there is a gap between what is commonly thought about social justice (and by effect, what we are presented with as social justice in media) and what it means for social justice to happen.
Start with a quick Google search asking, What is social justice? Depending on how Google is feeling today, you may be presented with the following definition: "Justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.” Clicking through to several of the definitions listed on other sites yields similar results.
While the definitions are informative, they speak to the gap. Social justice, as it is presented, is the result of some action (legislative or otherwise) that levels the playing field for individuals to have more wealth, more opportunity, or more privilege—or it is the action itself. The conversation in today’s society is focused on that—what needs to be done for others to help them out. This is not a bad thing.
Dr. King’s words, however, echo something much deeper and more important, and something that seems to have gotten lost in the world. Intentionally or not, he is echoing the apostle Paul’s words in his first letter to the Corinthians. In Chapter 13, Paul speaks candidly about the value of love and its role. In short, Paul tells us that no matter what great thing we do, if it is not done with love it is worthless.
Understanding what social justice is is nice. It is good. It is virtuous. Everyone should have a mind to help others.
Understanding that it is not the action of social justice that produces change, but doing it out of love that brings about revolution is better.