A “New” Definition of Greatness: A Heart Full of Grace, A Soul Generated by Love

Jesus gave us a new norm for greatness. If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct,” Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, February 4, 1968 [Based on Mark 10:35-43]


About the image: The image above features the pulpit from which Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and led a movement.  The passionate “How Long?  Not Long” speech was also delivered from this lectern on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery at the conclusion of the famous Selma to Montgomery March. The pulpit now rests in the basement of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. I had the privilege of placing my hand on this pulpit during a research trip with other educators a couple of summers ago.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. | Self-love and Soul Work

One of the most amazing experiences I had last year was traveling to Montgomery, Alabama [with a colleague and several Huntsville area K-12 teachers] and walking the path where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his activism. We often discuss King’s leading the fight for Civil Rights in this country with emphasis on his practice of non-violent/passive resistance. But, while he worked to build bridges between blacks and whites during one of the most turbulent eras of United States racial history, King also addressed the need for African Americans to resist the stigmatization of blackness. He urged us to love ourselves in spite of our country’s ingrained propensity to chip away at any inclination we possess toward authentic self-love and acceptance.

King would have been 90 today, and since his birthday falls during Pics and Posts’ “Self-love Week,” I am sharing an excerpt from a speech that encourages self-love.

I come here tonight to plead with you. Believe in yourself and believe that you are somebody. I said to a group last night: Nobody else can do this for us. No document can do this for us. No Lincolnian emancipation proclamation can do this for us. No Johnsonian Civil Rights bill can do this for us.

If the Negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation.

Don’t let anybody take your manhood. Be proud of our heritage…we don’t have anything to be ashamed of.

Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything “black” ugly and evil. Look in your dictionaries and see the synonyms of the word “black.” It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word “white,” it’s always something pure, high and clean. Well, I want to get the language right tonight.

I want to get the language so right that everyone here will cry out: ‘Yes, I’m Black, I’m proud of it. I’m Black and I’m beautiful!”

And because MLK’s speeches are best experienced aurally:

King spoke specifically to African Americans in this speech, but there’s something in his speech for everyone. Dig deep and do the work. Love the skin you’re in. Find within you that which is good and strong and beautiful.

Perhaps, if everyone took the time to love themselves the world wouldn’t be such a mess! We wouldn’t have to feast on fear and hatred or make ourselves sick building superficial lives in search of acceptance by others.

People who love themselves love people. People who love themselves are beautiful. People who love themselves use their energy and resources to build up others, not tear down and destroy.

Self-love is work, but one of the best ways we express self-love is through the soul work of loving others.

 

Finding the Words: Flowers From That Garden

I spent some time last week in Montgomery, Alabama–the “cradle of the Civil Rights Movement”–visiting archives, museums, and exhibits. Several days later, I still have few words to explain the mix of strong feelings that have taken residence in my soul. Even though I’ve heard the stories, read the books, seen (some of) the images before, and even taught the material, I need time to process other ways of thinking through the atrocities of our nation’s past.

As I was there listening, reading, watching, taking notes, and snapping photos, I realized how much the past is echoed in our present, how little we have moved away from those heinous acts; in fact, in the two short days that I was studying the horrors of our past, we were creating more devastation. And instead of sitting at the table and finding solutions, we were casting blame and wasting time on foolish distractions.

Beyond the atrocities, I found my heart breaking at the impossibility of the thing we must conquer to actually make progress. We can march for civil and human rights, but our marches cannot change the thing that makes these protests necessary–the hate and fear that dwell in people’s hearts.

Is it possible?

Is it possible to undo the social conditioning that begins at the dinner table? The disdain for others that is cultivated via television and social media? The thing in (some of us) that convinces us that murdering “those” people and separating “those” children from their parents are justifiable?

One of the meaningful experiences I had while in Montgomery was visiting the church and home of Martin Luther King, Jr. (more on that later). Outside the home there is a peaceful garden–The King-Johns Garden for Reflection, commemorating the  work of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church’s renown pastors.  In the moment I was there, I grasped the possibilities of the principles Rev. Vernon Johns and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. embraced: Equality. Forgiveness. Hope. Peace. Understanding. Unity.

DeLinda contemplating forgiveness…

A plaque at the entrance to the garden reads [in part]:

In the serenity of this garden, you are invited to reflect upon six timeless themes about which Rev. Johns and Dr. King often preached, lectured, and wrote: Equality-Forgiveness-Hope-Peace-Understanding-Unity. We encourage you to ponder each one as it relates to you, your family, and your community. Here, in the shadow of Rev Johns’ and Dr. King’s pastoral home, may you find the personal fulfillment that is often the first step on the long journey to a better world.

Carlette contemplating equality…

The baby girl in the photograph that formed my previous post is my niece Tiffany’s daughter. I’m trying to hope that by the time she grows up, the horror story that my nation is wont to tell will have transformed into another type of tale–one of light, acceptance, respect, and freedom for all who cross its borders.

Maybe, if we can get the world to be quiet and still enough to contemplate the King-Johns principles, we can make true progress. Maybe, we can forge a better future, a brighter world for the upcoming generation and the generations that follow.

The flowers in this post are from that garden. They remind me despite all the ugly, beauty can survive.

“Montgomery on My Mind”

People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically…No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in –Rosa Parks

My colleague, Dr. Ramona Hyman, always has “Montgomery” and its rich Civil Rights history “on [her] mind.” Thanks to her, I have Montgomery, Alabama on my mind too as I prepare to spend a couple of days there with her and several Huntsville educators “Revisiting the Montgomery Bus Boycott.” The educators are working on integrating this piece of history into their K-12 classes. I have a different research agenda–as I’m thinking through a project on women’s involvement in critical moments in history.

Today is a perfect time to share some of the Rosa Parks postcards in my collection. I’ve had them for quite some time, but now that I’m thinking about Montgomery, it’s an appropriate time to share.

Many people know about her contribution to American civil rights and history, but just in case you don’t know–Rosa Parks is considered the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” Her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955 “triggered a wave of protests that reverberated throughout the United States.” The boycott lasted for more than a year and ultimately catapulted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into national prominence. The boycotts led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation on city buses.

Here are three related postcards from my collection:

The “Rosa Parks Bus” at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan

From the postcard back:

Montgomery City Bus 2857. Originally built in 1948 in Pontiac, Michigan, Bus 2857 was operated by the Montgomery City Bus Lines in Montgomery, Alabama from 1954-1971. Rosa Parks was riding this bus on the evening of December 1, 1955 when she was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white man. This incident sparked subsequent civil rights protests, especially the boycott of Montgomery’s bus system. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the beginning of a revolutionary era of non-violent mass protests in support of civil rights in the United States. The yearlong boycott kept Montgomery’s [black population] off all buses until December 1956 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the segregation of public transportation was unconstitutional. Bus 2857 was retired and sold in 1971. After sitting for 30 years in a field, the bus was purchased by auction by The Henry Ford [Museum} and has been restored to appear as it did in 1955. The bus is now on display in the Henry Ford Museum.

You can find more details about the purchase and restoration of the bus here: Restoring the Rosa Parks Bus.

Rosa Parks arrested for refusing to yield her seat to a white man.

The postcard, featuring the familiar image of Parks being fingerprinted, comes from the Women Who Dared collection sent to me during Women’s History Month several years ago. The sender added a Parks quote:

Each person must live life as a model for others. –Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

The art above is part of the “Celebrating Women” banners that were on display at The Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Celebrate Cafe in New York City when I visited several years ago (2010, maybe?). If I remember correctly, each banner was created by a young woman who was involved in the Club.

You can find out a lot more about Rosa Parks by reading her biography on the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute website. You’ll find that she was much more than the woman who refused to give up her seat.

“A Hymn for Montgomery 55” by Ramona Hyman
from her collection, In the Sanctuary of the South

Holy, holy, holy: a hymn of praise
For prophets framing freedom
In Montgomery 55: Strange fruits marching–some
Walking, some crawling–some…

Holy, holy, holy–a hymn of praise
Emptying itself
Americans: black and white; hand in hand
Saintly sighing a freedom song of praise

Holy, holy, holy–the march raises
Into victory: freedom swells, the flag: separate
And unequal shreds into the face of anxious
Soldiers–black and white jumping the broom
Into a new day–the Civil Rights Movement begins

The 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of the King of Love: “It Is Not a Day to Celebrate”

“I Have a Dream,” the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue in Riverside California, depicts King leading a Civil Rights march. The back of the statue reads: “Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace.I was a drum major for righteousness.” Statue designed by artist Lisa Reinerston. Photo by D. Williams on Pixabay

Be wary.
Be wise.
Stand far away from anyone who suggests
that you celebrate anything on April 4, 2018.
It is not a day to celebrate.
It is a day to remember.
Remember how thoroughly dead the King of
Love is dead.
Listen to Nina Simone.
Teach our young to remember.
Remember how thoroughly dead the King of
Love is dead.
April 4, 2018 is a day to remember.
It is not a day to celebrate.
Stand far away from anyone who suggests
that you co-opt yourself with celebration.
Be wary.
Be wise.
Listen to Nina Simone.

Poem by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
Written February 25, 2018

But If Not: MLK on Civil Disobedience

There is a reward if you do right for righteousness’ sake. It says that somehow that burning fiery furnace was transformed into an air-conditioned living room. Somebody looked in there and said “We put three in here, but now we see four.” Don’t ever think you’re by yourself. Go on to jail if necessary, but you’ll never go alone. Take a stand for that which is right, and the world may misunderstand you and criticize you, but you never go alone. For somewhere I read that “one with God is a majority,” and God has a way of transforming a minority into a majority. Walk with Him this morning and believe in Him and do what is right and He’ll be with you even until the consummation of the ages. Yes, I’ve seen the lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roll. I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing trying to conquer my soul, but I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No, never alone, no, never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. Where you’re going […], tell the world that you’re going with truth. You’re going with justice, you’re going with goodness, and you will have an eternal companionship. And the world will look at you and they won’t understand you, for your fiery furnace will be around you, but you’ll go on anyhow. But if not, [you] will not bow, and God grant that we will never bow before the gods of evil.         –Martin Luther King, Jr., “But If Not”

The quote above is from “But If Not,” a favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. sermon. The sermon, based on the familiar story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego–“the three Hebrew boys” of Daniel 3–was delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in November 1967.

If you’re interested in listening to the full sermon, click the “play” button below: