The Help, Caregivers and MLKing’s Challenging Call

DR. BENJAMIN PRATT is author of the new, Guide for Caregivers: Keeping Your Spirit Healthy When Your Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities Are Dragging You Down.

Remembering and Reaching Out:
‘Tied in a Single Garment of Destiny’

By Dr. Benjamin Pratt

“Wasn’t Hilly a bitch! I loved watching her choke on that chocolate pie!” If you’ve heard these words from a friend, then you’re familiar with The Help—the best-selling novel that became a hit movie likely to be a serious contender for Oscars on February 26. Even though racism in the 1960s was a deadly business—the movie overall is a fun look at the past—from the popcorn, to the laughter over that pie to seeing the stars next month on that red carpet in Hollywood.

But there’s an ongoing drama involving The Help that we all need to think about, especially on a weekend dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

First, as a lifelong pastoral counselor who has just spent a couple of years researching a book on caregivers, I suggest we all pause and pray: “Open my eyes that I might see the real lives of our current caregivers—nannies, housekeepers, home health care workers. Open my eyes to the conditions in which they live—all these people who work that we might do our work and live our lives as we wish. Open my eyes to the millions of helpful caregivers who aren’t protected by legal or economic standards that guarantee them a viable life.”

As most Americans now know, The Help looks back half a century to relations between employers and their black caregivers in the South. This novel, by Kathryn Stockett, and the film based on it are rife with racial and economic tensions imbedded in these fragile co-dependent relationships. Laced with pain and pleasure, compassion and cruelty, humor and sadness, bigotry and inclusiveness, courage and cowardice, the tale is worthy of our attention—but not to dismiss these issues as a terrible shadow of a distant past.

Especially this weekend, we should stop and think about acting with justice toward the caregivers of our own age.

Dr. King’s work rested on the shoulders of great peacemakers like Gandhi—and King’s legacy extends to current peacemakers like Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar. (Here’s a story about their connections by Daniel Buttry.) All of these great peacemakers taught that justice is not just a legal or moral issue but also a matter of economics. King especially understood the importance of good jobs that pay living wages in a nation that honors its promise of fairness, equality and economic justice. King was born on January 15, 1929, and was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, as he was focusing on the economic dimension of the freedom struggle—supporting the demands of sanitation workers for more pay, better working conditions and the right to unionize.

Before finishing the book, A Guide for Caregivers, I attended a regional Care Congress in Washington, DC. This Caring Across Generations event was led by a coalition of more than 70 organizations representing nearly 15 million women, people with disabilities, seniors, domestic workers and caregivers. (Check out the Caring Across Generations website and also take a look at the website’s map page for 2012 Care Congress locations.)

This is a major campaign, rolling across the United States throughout this new year in gatherings from Seattle to San Antonio to Boston. The movement includes Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and national human rights leaders. Together, their clarion call is to protect and expand our nation’s support system for the aging and people with disabilities at a time when the need for caregiving in America is skyrocketing.

Caring Across Generations is trying to transform long-term care for care recipients, care workers, and families who struggle to find affordable quality care for their loved ones. The goal is to protect what we have—Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security—while creating what we need: two million new care jobs, training and protection for workers, new paths to citizenship for immigrant workers, and measures to make care more affordable for struggling families.

Etched in the stone wall at the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC, are words from a 1963 speech in Alabama: “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.”

Care to read more from Benjamin Pratt?

READ about Benjamin Pratt’s A Guide for Caregivers.

Want to find peace in your reading—and group discussions—this winter? Consider learning about Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Click on the cover of Buttry’s book, at right.

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Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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