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Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Happy Belated Birthday, Martin Luther King!

Saint and sinner Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 84 yesterday.

It’s because I’m black, isn’t it?

I had just refused his request for money outside Barnes & Noble, my daughter in one arm, my son at my side, our arms laden with their new gift card purchases in the form of a zoo Playmobil and a Lord of the Rings lego set, compliments of their great grandparents.

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No, I can assure you that’s not the reason, I had answered, more amused than off-put.

This week I’m grateful that the reminders of Martin Luther King’s legacy- both the achievements of this great man and the hurdles still left to scale- are all over the place where I live and where my children go to school (in downtown Atlanta).

Several times a week, I drive down Joseph Lowery Blvd and turn left on Martin Luther King Blvd, making my way to a 50 meter public pool in a gritty section of southwest Atlanta, only a few miles from my neighborhood.  If not that long ago blacks and whites would not have been able to swim in the same lanes or undress in the same locker room, now we trade pleasantries and words of encouragement as we peel off layers of clothing or adjust our caps and goggles, bracing ourselves for our initial submersion.

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The drive to the pool and back can sometimes be a different story- no matter that the main drag lines the campus outskirts of the highly regarded Morehouse College or the new condo developments waiting to be occupied, no matter that it is always broad daylight when I venture through this part of town.

The other day a young black man- he must have been only 18 0r 19- walked by as my car dallied at a traffic light.  We exchanged a brief but meaningful look.  His eyes seemed from somewhere within the recesses of my own fear to challenge my very existence at this traffic light in southwest Atlanta: the privileged white woman in her Toyota Rav-4 waiting for that traffic light to turn green did not belong here, in his neighborhood, on his streets.  He kept staring back at me as he walked by, his pants hanging below his underwear, the lines of contempt, distrust, resentment, even hostility so clearly etched across his face.

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In those short moments, it seemed as if the light could not have changed more slowly.

I wonder what Martin Luther King would say if he were alive today- about our cities and communities…about a black, homeless man convinced he’s poor because of the color of his skin…about a young black man with a look that could kill and the white woman in her Rav-4 feeling scared because she might be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  What would King say about how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go in reaching “that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last!  Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!”

Maybe he would say yes, we’ve come a long way and we’ve got a long way to go- but that the journey starts with a God who makes the rough places smooth and men and women who with this trust are simply willing to travel there.

 

 

  • Kristina Robb-Dover

    Thanks for reading, Michael- and for these beautiful recollections! I love that: “No child, it doesn’t rub off.” Funny. I hope you’ll keep coming back and sharing your thoughts. I do read them and very much appreciate hearing from you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Michael Mills

    Excellent blog Kristina! As I read it, I was reminded of the first black person I ever met.

    I was about three-and-a-half years old. My mom had taken me to Denver to be with her sister and Christmas shop. In 1954 there weren’t any malls as there are today. One went to large department stores in the heart of the city if you wanted to shop. We were on the sidewalk near one such store admiring the marvelous seasonal window displays when I looked up and to my left, noticing a large black woman. (Of course, when you’re three everyone is large so my memory may not be entirely accurate regarding specific points such as this.) Having grown up in a small farming community north of Denver, I had never seen a black person before. She looked down at me and her face lit up more brightly than the decorated window we’d all been looking at, as she exclaimed, “What a precious little boy!” She then dropped down to her knees, gently took my cheeks in her hands and began to bless me with more praise and tenderness, asking my name and such. In my innocent state of wonder I reached up and touched her face. She understood my curiosity and was not offended in the lease. She smiled all the brighter and with laughter cried, “No child, it doesn’t rub off.”

    That was my first experience of meeting a black person…but not a black person at all. She was in a very real sense, Jesus, touching not just my face, but my heart. She may have been smaller or even larger than my memory reveals, but I will never forget the touch of her hands and spirit. The unselfish kindness and love she showed me that day are forever burned into my heart.

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