Via Basel: A Letter on Martin Luther King Day

17th May 1957: Back view of American civil rights leader and Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968), dressed in black robes and holding out his hands towards the thousands of people who have gathered to hear him speak near the Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC during the Prayer Pilgrimage. The Washington Monument can be seen in the background. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A Letter to my African-American Brothers and Sisters  

From one immigrant to another,

I arrived on the shores of the United States of America four and one half decades ago voluntarily as an immigrant. Aside from professional and financial ambitions, what I was most yearning for was America’s promise of freedom and equality irrespective of race, color, creed, or country of origin. I succeeded beyond my initial expectations and felt integrated and accepted universally, and for that I am forever grateful to my adopted country.

Your ancestors first arrived to this land nearly four centuries ago, in 1619, and continued to come during the next two centuries. Their journey, however, was forced upon them as they were packed on slave ships from their native lands and transported under harrowing conditions to colonies not yet united. They were treated inhumanely, as property bought and sold to the highest bidder, to work on plantations for the economic welfare of their owners. Following the Civil War and emancipation they were technically free but actually were a subclass denied basic educational and economic opportunities and terrorized in every possible way including mob lynchings by the thousands.

By the year 1915, fed up and demoralized, many embarked on a great migration by the millions from their homes in the south heading north and west, concentrating in big cities such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles, looking for decent jobs and opportunities. Discrimination and segregation continued, but there was progress thanks to the Civil Rights movement and peaceful civil disobedience in the fifties and sixties under the leadership of heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who we honor today.

“Today, even with a century and a half between us and our greatest cataclysm, we have an eerie sense that so much of what seemed safely distant about the Civil War now seems present, palpable, the underlying racial causes of the old conflict on nearly daily display,” says Ken Burns the eminent documentary filmmaker in his foreword to New York Times Disunion: A History of the Civil War by historian Ted Widmer with Clay Risen and  George Kalogerakis of The New York Times. It is my firm belief that this, an old conflict and still our greatest challenge, is what will define us in the future.

As an immigrant who did not endure a fraction of these obstacles and humiliations, as a concerned citizen who has educated himself in our nation’s history, and as a human being who empathizes with the suffering of others, I salute all black Americans, past and present, and their contributions to our nation’s wealth and culture over four centuries on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 16, 2017.

I resolve to do my best in words and deeds to help heal this divide in order to achieve a more perfect union.

Yours sincerely,

Basel Al-Aswad


Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Chris Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family. 

Work Cited:

The New York Times Disunion at Oxford University Press

The New York Times Disunion at Barnes & Noble

Further Reading:

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson 

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson 

Loving and Fearing Race Relations by Billie Wade at EIL 

Life in the Box: 2017 Strategic Thinking by Nancy Heather Brown at EIL

CNN Library photo & caption credit, “Martin Luther King Jr Fast Facts”



One response to “Via Basel: A Letter on Martin Luther King Day”

  1. Basel, thank you for saying it so well. Our country is now facing a monumental problem as our basic values of inclusiveness, respect, decency and human dignity are under siege. These values lay in the rubble and debris of our disfunctioning political system while fear, hate and xenophobia that threatens our most cherished American values. We have work do and the voice of MLK and others can guide us. His dream and ours is not for sissies. Joe Kilikevice

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