"Movements are like jigsaw puzzles. Everybody represents a piece. Without your piece, the change puzzle would not be complete."
- Joanne Bland, Civil Rights Activist
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. looms large as the face of the American Civil Rights Movement. With remarkable courage and deep conviction rooted in his Christian faith and the of philosophy of non-violence, King urged this country by word and deed to repent of and change the policies and practices that purported the insidious lie of racial difference. The false notion that black skin, black bodies matter less.
On Monday, we will celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, remembering the courage of his convictions and the call to action still needed today. While we have indeed come a long way, the sin and social construct of race and racism still infects our country—and not just us as individuals but our systems and institutions. What is more, as people of faith we are particularly compelled to listen, learn, and to act. Jesus invites us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Or, as we say at Preston Hollow Presbyterian, “Trust that all belong to God and seek to live like we belong to one another.”
In a sermon he preached King said it this way “All people are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be” (“The Man Who Was A Fool”).
As I ponder the legacy and the urgency of King’s message, I am reminded that while he was a staggering figure and the public face of the Movement in this country, the fight for civil rights is a story is not about a single hero—Martin Luther King Jr. It is not even a story of a handful of brave figures like King, Rosa Parks, or John Lewis. Though they were incredibly brave. Rather, the Civil Rights Movement in America was the result of years of strategic planning and actions big and small by many, many ordinary people—a significant number of them women and young people.
People like Jo Ann Robinson and others who made photo copies in the dark of night to get the word out about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. People such as Joann Bland, a thirteen-year-old girl who marched with her sister on Bloody Sunday and integrated her all-white high school in Selma. Couples like Richard and Vera Harris who opened their home to house Freedom Riders and whose drugstore in Montgomery served as a dispatch center for taxis providing a way to organize alternative modes of transportation.
Behind the towering figures that we know, were countless everyday people whose courage and daily choices made change in our country. I cannot help but think that as we celebrate his legacy, the fullness of the Movement and our part to play in justice, is something Dr. King would have us consider.
This weekend, I am challenging myself not just to remember and celebrate and talk only about what a hero King and others were in our history, but to ask what kind of hero I want to be. What difference will I make? What difference will your choices and actions make in the world?
If you are looking for small things that you can do to honor the MLK holiday, here are a few small suggestions:
- Read Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
- Participate in a Dallas Dinner Table: https://dallasdinnertable.com
- Attend the Dallas MLK Parade and Celebration or one of the weeklong events: https://www.facebook.com/events/the-martin-luther-king-jr-community-center/2020-dr-martin-luther-king-jr-celebration-week/715339995631537/
- Read theology such as Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited or James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree
- Go Deeper into some of King’s sermons and speeches through books like Stride Toward Freedom; Why We Can’t Wait; Where We Go From Here
- Read the book or see the movie Just Mercy. Talk about it with a friend.
- Commit to investing in meaningful conversations about racial justice in your church and community
- Volunteer in your community in a way that gives back directly to the black community
- Invest in listening to the experience of a person(s) of color
- Donate to organizations that support racial justice
- Make it a goal/priority to have meaningful friendships in your life beyond those who look like you
- Sign up for PHPC’s Racial Justice and Equity Pilgrimage this February 2020