I am a 48 year old black woman living in the United States. I am the daughter of a woman born in the segregated south, who went to "colored" only schools, drank from water fountains marked "white" and "colored", and used public restrooms marked "white" and "colored". My grandparents were descendants of sharecroppers, freed slaves and Native Americans.
As a small child visiting my grandparents in South Carolina, I remember picking cotton with them and walking down the main street in town with my grandfather ~ a tall, dark skinned man with hazel green eyes, who would have to get off the sidewalk and walk in the street when white men passed us by, calling him boy and nigga, a man who didn't dare raise his eyes and stare at a white woman as she passed by.
So to me today is a very special day, a day worth celebrating!
Yesterday, I went to a program at my mom's church in celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called, "The Man and the Message." There were passages of his most famous speeches played and spoken, there were songs of freedom sung, and the children of the church danced and sang. There was even an offering taken for the local food bank but there were two things that really touched my heart...
One was the Litany that was included in the program...and I include a part of here...
CONGREGATION: Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned the ultimate freedom: the freedom achieved in struggle; the freedom reached in brotherhood and sisterhood; the freedom inspired by the lot of a people; the freedom free of hate; the freedom full of love.
LEADER 1: He came into our lives when the yearning of a people to be free had turned their attention to justice. For justice, and only justice, we shall follow, that we may live and inherit the land which the Lord our God gave us.
CONGREGATION: He reminded us that the spirit of man and woman soars from depths of despair with the strength and belief in the promise of the Creator. We know and we testify: the Lord loves justice; God will not forsake the saints.
LEADER 2: And so he set off with us on a journey for justice. It was a journey proclaiming the words of the ancient prophet, Amos: "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." It was a journey calling forth the modern Christian ministry to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.
CONGREGATION: And even when death was confronted, as the journey reached Memphis, he could say in final triumph, that in life he had found something worth dying for, something worth life itself - The Promised Land, a land of freedom with justice.
ALL: We praise the Lord God for sending us a man of peace, a man of non-violence who fought for liberty, a man of God who worked for people. Thank you Lord, for Martin Luther King, Jr. who inspired us with his dream, who walked into our lives and our hearts with his marches for justice, who demanded freedom with great courage in the face of grave danger, and who has now passed on into your Promised Land. Thank you for his noble legacy to continue the journey to that land here on earth. Thank you God.
The other thing that touched me was the address given by one of the NJ state Congressman, who was of Indian descent, who attended the service. His comments paraphrased were basically that every immigrant, every person from another country that has made their way to America after Dr. King's valiant fight, owed a debt of gratitude to Dr. King and the people who marched, fought and suffered with him because their fight for equality made it possible for everyone else who came behind to be free in America!
I know for many that this is just a day off from work. The post office and banks are closed. The retail outlets are running more sales and you can sleep late, run errands or just relax. But to me and my family, this is a day of celebration, a day of reflection, a day of atonement but mostly a day of gratitude...because someone cared enough to stand up! Someone believed enough in freedom for all men and women no matter their color or creed, believed in an America that would, could and should change...
So I celebrate today and every day a man of vision, a man of courage, a man who had a dream, that still is working on becoming a reality...
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.