Posts tagged MLK
This Little Light Of Mine

Okay. So I know we've already talked a little about Selma, but you all know me. It takes a while for the deep emotions I feel to wrap themselves in words. I wanted to give voice to how impacted I was by the Selma movie, but knew it would take time for me to share the extant to wish I was moved. It has taken a few days, but I want to share with you one of the gems I will carry with me for a long, long time. 

When the credits rolled, and the song Glory transitioned into This Little Light Of Mine I realized I was viewing this movie as a black woman. I know that sounds silly because I watch everything in this body of mine, but I was so utterly aware of my embodied experience in America. Ava's opening scene, listening to the little girls discuss hair, immediately drew me in. For the rest of the movie I was identifying with black women- young and old, overwhelmed and frustrated, persistent and strategic, fiery and intelligent, loving and defiant, crying and fighting on. I was all in, friends. 

And this would have been enough. It would have been enough to see myself so represented on the screen. Its not often that I go to a movie and identify with so many characters. Feeling seen, known, respected, understood is not typical of a movie-going experience for me. So this was a gift all by itself. But then something about the movie sunk deeper.

It happened as the movie grew increasingly dramatic. The focus shifting to MLK and the desire of various government officials to convince him to end the crusade, to drop the demonstration. I was not surprised to witness the various tactics used to stop MLK: insertion of fear, promises of compromise, weight of responsibility. There was a never ending onslaught of strategy to silence him. And each time he resisted. 

The President of the United States has never called me. The FBI is not recording me. No one has bombed my home. US government officials are unconcerned about my... blog. So I do not suggest here today that I am living MLKs life in any way. What I do want to validate, on a smaller but important scale, are the ways in which black women continue this work of strategy within the Church.

"If you would just slow down, I really think that pastor is closer to moving on that decision than you think. Don't ruin it." 

"I appreciate your passion, and I get it, but you have to know we are just not there yet. Perhaps if you tried something else- changed your tone perhaps- you would see more movement." 

"You are just so strong. Thank you for your strength as you push this conversation to the forefront. We hope you will continue to use your strength..." but there is no talk of change.

"This campaign of yours is starting to get a little toxic. Are you sure you this is the place God really wants you to be?" 

"You know how much I care about this issue. I just have a number of other values to juggle, too. We just cant move on this right now. But why don't you think about MLK Day and what might be done then?"  

"Our congregation has already moved so far on this issue. What else would you like us to do, exactly?" 

"Perhaps you should read more about MLK and really understand how he... [something incomprehensible]." 

I could go on and on, friends. While these certainly do not amount to the pressure, the fog of death, described in the movie, these experiences are no less real. At first they are disheartening. We bend trying to find the hopefulness buried in the words. And then we recognize them for what they are- political maneuverings, self-protection of the organization. This is the point where my disappointment, frustration, and yes anger become overwhelming. But then I watched Selma.

Ava let me watch MLK resist taking on responsibility for the deaths of civilians and hand it back to a government who refused to demand police protection over police brutality. Ava let me watch MLK remind the white power structure that the subject of the conversation was not the noise of the demonstrations but the lack of action on their part. Ava let me watch MLK strategically reframe every "legitimate" reason to stop. Ava let me watch MLK remain resistant not just in the big ways- huge demonstrations and soaring speeches. She let me see him on the phone, in meetings, in small rooms, in one-on-one conversations. She let me see him where I live my life, where I love the Church. 

As you participate in holy resistance, I hope you, too, will be invigorated by these small but signifcant scenes. I hope you will see your role as quite political. I hope you will see yourself as capable of strategizing and reframing. I hope that you will own your power to see clearly. I hope that you will speak truth to power, fully embodied in who you are and what you have been called to do. I hope you let your little light shine. 



A Protest

So this is one of those blog posts that could get me into a lot of trouble. I have a friend who says that every racial reconciler should possess a little Martin (as in MLK Jr.) and a little Malcolm (as in X). The idea is that we need the balance of MLK's love and peacefulness as well as the demanding, unsatisfied voice of Malcolm. This post is falling a little closer to Malcolm.  

This week, many around the world will pause to remember the life and death of Martin Luther King Jr. We will stop to reflect on powerful, prophetic sermons that rocked communities. We will post images of marches, sit-ins, and freedom riders. We'll upload or favorite pictures and tweet our favorite quotes. And I will be among everyone else, loving the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement he represented. 

When we truly pause to reflect on this time in American history, it really is astounding. With the advent of television, Civil Rights leaders, including MLK, used this growing technology to draw attention to their plight. They set-up the media to put on display the realities of living in segregated America. The media couldn't resist covering the Movement, even if they wanted to ignore it. Every protest was purposefully creative. At the very least they served three purposes 1. to galvanize the community of the oppressed 2. to move the hearts of the privileged and uninvolved and 3. to provide evidence to the unbelieving that America had a problem that needed to be fixed.  

While I am grateful for the ways this legacy lives on, the tradition and history that arises every time I hear the song, "We Shall Overcome", I still want more. I want us to embody the spirit of the protests, not just repeat the steps. I have seen many glimpses of new creativity- Facebook pictures the symbolize our support, apps that make fundraising easy, tweets that spread like wildfire. But I also still see an overwhelming number of small marches and old hymns that lack the courage, creativity, danger, sacrifice, and heart that moved the nation in the 1960s. What happened to our conviction to put racism on display, to show what it looks like, sounds like, feels like? 

It seems that many protests today are missing some of these essential ingredients. People gather together but they aren't always representative of the oppressed community, and they certainly aren't always planned and implemented by the oppressed, an essential component of sustainable galvanization. It also seems like a lot of protests are so focused on what they are against, that they have completely forgotten about moving people to care. The beauty of the Civil Rights protests was its incredible growth. White college students from the North were risking their lives because they were so moved to action, so moved to care. Today's protests have the "us vs them" language down, but have they forgotten how to turn "them" into "us"? And lastly, protest planners have to keep in mind that the world is looking for evidence- evidence of a problem. Can your protest put the evidence, the symbols, the faces, the feelings on display? If all three components can exist in today's world of amazing technology, communication and connection, we just might, finally, Overcome. 

My immense gratitude for those of old who marched, sat, kneeled, voted, preached, sang, and gave their lives so that I can lead the life I have. And my eternal support to the activists of today who are trying to change the world, one (creative) protest at a time.  


Black Tears

On Martin Luther King Jr weekend, I was honored to speak at Willow Creek Community Church, alongside one of my best friends, Jenny. The story we shared, the story of how we became friends is the namesake for this blog. We met on a college trip called Sankofa. 


Sankofa is a civil rights bus trip through the South, where a black student and white student are paired up for the length of a three day trip to talk about race. On this trip our group's first stop was a plantation in Louisiana. Far from being an educational experience on the harsh realities of slavery, all we learned was how ignorant and self-congratulatory our guides could be. For the entire tour, we were told about "happy slaves" who sang in the fields, and then we were given the chance to go pick some cotton ourselves. The whole trip was filled with misconceptions and inaccuracies that bordered too closely on defending the institution of slavery. 

The anger of the black students and the confusion of the white students, during this guided tour was no laughing matter. Our conversation quickly moved beyond superficiality, but it was the next stop rocked us all to our core.


Our bus pulled into a museum consisting of only one exhibit- a lynching exhibit. Every wall was filled with photographs of dark-skinned human beings swinging by their necks. A mother and son hang over a bridge, burned bodies swing over dying fires, the smiles of white faces proudly testify to the joy of the occasion. We came across newspaper stories advertising the community events and finally a postcard with a note on the back, "sorry we missed you at the barbecue." Startling, jolting, wrecking. There was no sound as we walked though the exhibit. We could barely breathe let alone speak. 


When we climbed back on the bus, all that could be heard were sniffles. The emotion was thick. It was as if no time at all had passed between the generation in the pictures and the one sitting on that bus. It was all so real. 

The first people to break the silence were white. They attempted to distance themselves from the pain and anger of the moment. "But I didn't know this even happened," or "Its not my fault; I wasn't there," even "Well, what about the holocaust; its not like your the only ones to face difficulties." They were reaching for anything; anything to retreat from the guilt and shame, the anger and disappointment, the atrocity of this practice. 


The emotion continued to build. Black and white grew further and further apart with each new speaker. Another white girl stood to speak. But instead of a different variation on "please don't make me responsible for this", she took a deep breath and acknowledged our pain. She gave in to the emotion of it all. She, too, was in disbelief but she didn't allow herself the luxury of not grappling with it. "I don't know what to do with what I've learned," she said. "I can't fix your pain, and I can't take it away, but I can see it. And I can work for the rest of my life to make sure your children don't have to experience the pain of racism."

And then Jenny said 9 words that I've never forgotten, "Doing nothing is no longer an option for me." 


As she said those words, tears began to fall down her cheeks, mixing with her mascara, they left dark streaks down her face. I turned to a friend behind me and whispered, "She's crying black tears."

This was my first experience of racial reconciliation. It was the first time I had connected so deeply with my own history. It was the first time I really tried to share that experience with others. It was the first time I heard what white people really think about African American history, and it was the first time I watched someone get it- really get it.

That was 9 years ago. Only by God's grace were we able to tell this story together, and it was pure joy because those words have remained true for us both- doing nothing is no longer an option.