Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement do not reside in the past. They live on in people’s hearts and lives today. As poet and performer Emmett Wheatfall reminds us here in “Miles to Go,” the race is not over. We have “miles to go before we sleep.” Other voices join in the refrain below. I have asked several friends and colleagues in various settings to share about the import of Dr. King’s life and legacy for them, as they continue the journey. Here are their reflections in honor of Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement today:
“Today we remember Dr. Martin Luther King and his lasting legacy. In the midst of a time of unrest, racial divide, confusion, anger, dismay, despair and apathy, I still hold strong to his, no, our ‘Dream’ that we will not be judged by the color of our skin nor persecuted nor discriminated against. I have faith and believe that good will overcome evil.” Gloria Young, Community and Business Leader, San Francisco, California.
“At the time, Doctor King embodied hope. The contrast between my life in California and my cousin’s in Arkansas was stark. I prayed every night his dream would come true for us as African Americans.” Jimi Calhoun, Pastor, Musician, Author of A Story of Rhythm and Grace: What the Church Can Learn from Rock and Roll about Healing the Racial Divide, Austin, Texas.
“I fell in love with Dr. King when I was in fourth grade. I heard that he had died trying to help America see that black people were equal and should be treated so under the law. Forty-five years ago in rural California that wasn’t the case and my friend, Carolyn, could not go alone to the girls’ bathroom because of the taunts and the attacks she received. Dr. King helped change that, and for that I am so grateful.” Seda Mansour, International Education Specialist.
“A beloved prophet of the Beloved community. Through his life and beyond his death, Dr. King has taught me that true justice is rooted in the giving away of our lives for others. We must me bold in advocating for justice for all, and at the same time, we must guard ourselves against acts of violence, lest we who have been oppressed also become oppressors. Dr. King’s clarion call for non-violence echoes from the past into the present; even in his death his voice guides us towards the anticipated kingdom of Christ.” Tony Huynh, Seminarian at Multnomah Biblical Seminary; Youth Director at Common Ground Church, Beaverton, Oregon.
“As a preacher and a trainer of other preachers, Dr. King inspires me to make language sing for the glory of God. Dr. King teaches me that a sermon must not only be faithful to the Bible, that the preacher should not only speak to the mind, but that a sermon brimming with beauty, can also spark the imagination, challenge the conscience, delight the heart, and move the will to action.” Matt Woodley, Editor of PreachingToday.com; Missions Pastor at Church of the Resurrection, Wheaton, Illinois.
“As a 53 yr old Black Minister, business owner, academician, husband and father, as well as a missional church planter, I often wrestle with the afterglow of Reverend Dr. Martin L. King. He has become contemporarily an object of unrealistic aspirations, which most White Americans hold as an icon in time which allows them to pay homage to those one-dimensional ideals, which are merely a sliver of his life’s efforts, while simultaneously disassociating their duplicitous policies of classism, materialism and a competitive education system that maintains segregation. I think it odd, how too often the attempt to revere his mission to bring an inclusive justice has – unintendedly – done more to maintain and promote an apathy among even the Blacks of the South who remain chained, like their White counterparts, to an unattainable imagery of community without accountability. In my personal reflections and estimation, there are far more frequently misplaced, overlooked, undervalued, and courageous people of color who are making significant headway in representing the principles of Rev. King, and yet are muted at best and disavowed at worst. In short, I find it sad that his life has become a moniker for ‘walk humbly,’ but empty of the dynamic power and strategies which encompasses ‘do justice’ in the prophetic book of Amos. The end result is the renunciation of a heavenly vision and initiative, robbing it of its source of relevance and the true obeisance to glorify God in all of our relationships. ” A. David Griffin lives and serves the community of Orangeburg, South Carolina, home of the Orangeburg Massacre circa February 6, 1968.
“Dr. King uniquely understood that the biblical prophets gave liberating words that emancipate the church from acquiescence to oppressive social orders and constructions of reality that stand in opposition to the freedom that is the good news of Jesus. I am grateful for the way King saw in the dehumanization and redemptive suffering of Isaiah’s suffering servant a redemptive social ethic that shaped the Civil Rights movement and transformed the world. King’s visionary understanding of the Prophets has inspired my spiritual formation through the Prophets and my research into the enduring social value of these scriptures.” Daniel Somboonsiri, Ph.D. Student, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.
“Dr. King is a believer who was so rooted in the gospel that he knew love was the only way to truly live out our redemption through Christ. He taught and modeled how to practice reconciliation with God and with one another. His dream of freedom for all humans, united in worship, praising God—that’s our dream of the new creation. Dr. King was in full partnership with Christ in bringing heaven to earth through calling out and fighting injustice.” Insil Kang, Director of Communications, Village Baptist Church, Beaverton, Oregon.
“One of the things I most appreciate about Dr. King is the way his life and work reminds me that social circumstances don’t have to remain as they are. They can be changed for the better and we are the means by which this can occur as a tangible witness to the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus.” John R. Franke, Theologian in Residence, Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.
“For me, the enduring legacy comes from the way MLK refused to stop loving even those who opposed him and demonized him most virulently, and the way he refused to stop holding out hope that even those who hated the most would someday come around to the way of love. The parallels to Jesus are conspicuous and striking. To my mind, MLK is the closest thing to Jesus that we’ve seen in our national life.” Tom Krattenmaker, Author of Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower: Finding Answers in Jesus for Those Who Don’t Believe; Journalist, Member of USA Today’s Editorial Board of Contributors; Member of Board of Directors, Yale Humanist Community, New Haven, Connecticut.
“The activist and advocacy work that I do and have spent my entire adult life doing to cultivate better understanding between people of different ethnic heritages, and build community, and the ministry message that I carry as an African American Faith leader, were inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He consistently demonstrated the love of Christ in the face of hate and adversity, and proved that love and non-violence are more powerful than hate and bigotry.” Pastor/Superintendent Clifford O. Chappell, BSCE, MDiv., a lifelong advocate/activist for love, peace, equality and justice, Portland, Oregon.
“The life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., continues to inspire my own efforts in pursuit of the dream (John 17:20-23), as well as to inform my understanding of the fact that personal lament, corporate repentance, reconciliation, and justice are not things peripheral, but intrinsic, to the gospel. Certainly no one in my lifetime has more passionately, clearly, succinctly, wisely, and sacrificially called the diverse people of this nation to walk, work, and honor (if not worship) God together as one beyond the distinctions of this world that so often and otherwise divide. May we all so then live – in prayerful purpose and patient persistence – as peacemakers, motivated by his example and following in the footsteps of Dr. King, for the sake of the eternal King, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Dr. Mark DeYmaz, Founding Pastor, Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas; President, Mosaix Global Network; Author, Disruption: Repurposing the Church to Redeem the Community; Little Rock Arkansas.