As we prepare to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for 2023, commemoration implies some aspects of remembering. As I remembered the events of the last eight years in our country, I found my empathy somewhat missing and overwhelmed. I sat with the computer in my lap and felt numb; words would not come. I wanted to write something meaningful and inspiring. I didn’t feel it.
No, I felt a sense of sadness and despair for our communities where the politics of injustice mean more than love, compassion, and empathy. For all that has been done, for all we have said, there are so many hearts that are angered that there is a MLK day. There is so much bitterness and self-righteousness that it overwhelms the desire to help those in need; to reach out to so many in our society who are at the bottom of this hierarchy of “merit”. There is so much need, so many homeless, so many trafficked, so many trapped, and still so much hate.
I want to be clear; I mean no disrespect to Dr. King or to all the civil rights leaders and activists who have bled and died to change the condition of people who have been mistreated, abused, neglected, and continue to be discriminated against. I am not minimizing the incredible changes in our society that their sacrifices have won. I understand their efforts opened doors not just for Black people, but for peoples of other colors, abilities, ethnicities, social strata, orientations, and religions. Their fight - I’m reminded of the signs in Memphis: “I am a Man!” – was not about color or origin. It was to declare to all that we are all God’s children, made in His image, quickened with His life and breath, and in this country, “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” It was to say the dignity of our beings come from a power far higher than any prejudice or human injustice. Clearly, this has borne fruit in our disability communities and has served to empower movements for inclusion. Still … the inspiration would not come. I needed to remember more.
Who knew two poorly chosen words could have such impact. In 1955, no one’s wildest dreams could conceive that two simple words like that would change the course of history. These were the two words spoken that started the chain reaction of events that eventually led to MLK day. They were the two words spoken that were used to justify the horrific killing of Emmett Till, whose open casket funeral aroused a downtrodden minority and led to a bus boycott that empowered that same minority to non-violent protest and resulted in the recognition of a young Baptist pastor named Martin Luther King, Jr. That chain of events spun through the 50’s and 60’s, ignited passionate commitment to obtaining justice, and changed America in law, and much more gradually, in deed.
Those two words resulted in a child, who after being discouraged by Jim Crow, was molded by the possibilities of both the Civil Rights and the Jesus Movement, and first marched in integration marches at the age of 4. It was two years later when that little black boy, with his 2 sisters, were the first to integrate elementary schools in south central Louisiana. Those two words laid the path for me to see the separate water fountains and bathrooms in public and private places fade away, and energized my amazement when, as a fourth grader, our school was taken to the local theater and allowed to walk through the front door of the theater for the first time to sit on the main floor in cushioned seats that actually rocked; to turn around and look up at the small balcony - the “peanut gallery” - where we had always been delegated to watch movies, only reached by going through the back door marked “For coloreds”. Many more changes were to come over the years, seemingly always following reluctant recognition of those who were disenfranchised demanding to be seen and heard.
So now, I’m searching for the words that will change 2023 the same way 1955 was changed, and 1966 was changed for me. I’m looking for the inspiration to hope again; to truly believe that more change is possible. I want to believe that all who are different, including many in this community whose difference is having “different abilities”, will be seen and valued for WHO THEY ARE, not for how they are perceived by those who seem to have all the power.
And … there they are. In my head I hear the words now.
Our son, Robert, sometimes when things weren’t going so well, would look at us, smile his crooked smile and say,
“You’re the Best!”
If he could believe in me like that, I can believe.
I pray that you will find your words to motivate and empower you to be the change that Dr. King hoped for in your family and your community. Find the words that help you believe that you are the change that needs to happen.
You’re the Best!
Listening Library: “Do It Again” (Elevation Worship)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43-44 NIV)
Do It Again
Walking around these walls I thought by now they'd fall
But You have never failed me yet
Waiting for change to come Knowing the battle's won For You have never failed me yet
Your promise still stands Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness I'm still in Your hands This is my confidence,
You've never failed me yet
I know the night won't last Your word will come to pass My heart will sing Your praise again
Jesus You're still enough Keep me within Your love, oh My heart will sing Your praise again
I've seen You move, You move the mountains And I believe I'll see You do it again You made a way, where there was no way And I believe I'll see You do it again
Oh, You've never failed me yet And I never will forget You've never failed me yet And I never will forget
Songwriters: Chris Brown, Mack Brock, Steven Furtick, Matt Redman
Do It Again lyrics © Worshiptogether.com Songs, Sixsteps Music, Said And Done Music, Thank You Music Ltd.,
Be Essential Songs