Every year on Martin Luther King Day, this song pops into my head. I hum it around the house, my sisters and I write it out on text messages or sing it if we happen to be together.
I grew up in Memphis and I mention it a lot because the city you grow up in shapes you. It definitely shapes you in ways that are tangible. For instance, I love BBQ and jazz makes my heart soar. But it molds your spirit in ways, too-that simply won’t shake.
You see, Martin Luther King was killed in my city. My parents remember curfews for the days following his murder. My mom remembers being picked up early from ballet that night. Grief mingling with fury and confusion was surely rising from the streets as her mom rushed them home. I think the gravity of what happened in Memphis still lingers in the subtext of everyday life.
During my childhood in the 80’s, Memphis was still nursing open wounds. Our teachers tried to rectify this in our public schools the best they could. We did MLK day programs and studied all the greats during Black History Month. And that stuff helps because we all know that learning history can help us not to repeat our sins, in theory. But what really helps is this: love and time.
Miraculously, at Sherwood Elementary School, where I went, black kids and white kids were best friends. We biked around the neighborhood together, we did birthday parties together, and we learned together. This one kid Derrick and I played Carmen San Diego on our respective computers ON THE PHONE together every day after school. “I’m going to Istanbul now, you?” And we called one another “brother” and “sister,” because that’s how we felt about one another.
And one time in a rain storm, my friend Tameka’s dad picked me up and took us to McDonald’s. He called us little fish and we rode in the front seat of his truck, giggling along as he drove us through giant puddles. The usually empty ditch between our houses and McDonald’s was brimming with water. And we ran across the parking lot to awaiting burgers and fries, having no idea that just a generation prior, a black man driving his daughter and her white friend for burgers would never have been allowed. I cry thinking about it, because there is hope. There is hope. At the time I didn’t know it, but now as a grown up, I know that burger date symbolized that things were changing in our city, and they still are, friends.
And though we live in a time that feels all gloom and doom, there is also good. Because we serve a good God. A God who is all about reconciliation, redemption, and relationships.
When change is slow and hard-fought, it makes sense that we will and do get discouraged.
But forgiveness and reconciliation have never been cheap and both require way more listening than talking. But mostly forgiveness and reconciliation require action and love.
Like Tameka’s dad picking up the white neighbor girl in 1987 and taking her to McDonald’s for a burger and fries.
Like having hard and awkward conversations with people who are different than us.
Like opening your home, breaking bread together, being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Like listening, praying, and learning compassion.
I drove by a city high school the other day at lunch time. Kids were pouring from the building in droves. As I slowed for the school zone, I noticed these kids walking together, not segregated, talking and laughing. Black kids, hispanic kids, white kids. Walking in small groups headed toward one common goal: FOOD. Small groups I couldn’t define by skin color if I tried. And it was amazing.
I think this is what God intended when he made us diverse. He made us different and different is SO GOOD. Do you realize if we’re all exactly the same, we wouldn’t compliment each other? We see this in marriage. If my husband was exactly like me (and he couldn’t be more different), I wouldn’t grow and vice versa. To be in a culture of sameness is to deny the Creativity of a good God. To be surrounded by sameness is to limit our growth. We were meant to be different TOGETHER.
God made this abundance of colors and sounds and differences and guess what, scripture says we were made in his image. ALL OF US. Made in his image. Made to reflect his glory.
As I read again Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech today, I am reminded of both the hope we have in how far we have come in 2017 and still our responsibility to continue fostering change and love in our homes and communities.
Today. My prayer is that in 20 years, my children will see even more of Martin Luther King’s dream fulfilled.