There have been such prolific things written about Dr. Martin Luther King that any attempt for me to describe his life or his work would most likely fall short. So instead of any of that, I will share a few thoughts that grew out of my girlhood in 1960s America.
My family was prejudiced, or more accurately racist. I am not proud of that. As a matter of fact, it sickens me when I recall how confused I was to hear some of the things my family members would say. I was confused because even though I was surrounded by ugly comments and descriptions of people who didn’t look like our family or go to the same church we did, those remarks did not describe my own little-girl experiences at all.
For example, when I would accompany my grandmother, who raised me, to her sister’s house on Eager Street in the inner city of Baltimore, I played with the black children my own age in the neighborhood. My grandmother and auntie didn’t really like me playing with the “coloreds” as they sometimes called them (or worse names that make my heart sad to this day) but relented because I was eight years old and bored.
I loved those black kids. They were more interesting than many of my white suburban friends, and taught me intricate jump-rope moves and songs with a rhythm and pace I loved. The girls used to like touching my frizzy white-blond hair and laughed that my hair was kind of like theirs—just a different color. I used to wish I was a black kid too sometimes. But then back to our lily-white neighborhood we would go, and I would long for the next time I saw the “Eager Street kids” as I used to call them.
Back home in the suburbs, people seemed to hold many similar views, and among them were racist sentiments. I understand now that if my neighbors had had the sweet times with the Eager Street kids that I did, perhaps they would have seen it all differently. But for my own family to be racist, whose blood ran in my veins too, that was something I couldn’t comprehend. Didn’t they see the Eager Street kids’ eyes gleam and their laughter rise into the hot summer midday just like mine did--when the ice cream man’s bell announced his frosty treats? Didn’t they see how we all played together for hours, hot and sweaty--jumping rope, singing silly songs, and bouncing one-legged on the chalk-drawn hopscotch outline? Didn’t they see how the water from the fire hydrant sprayed high into the air onto all of us and cooled our skin? Didn’t they see how we loved one another?
No, I think perhaps my family and many others like them saw only the difference between the colors of our skin and believed that one of those colors was to be more valued than the other-- always and in all ways. The other thing they believed to their core was that there was a certain order and hierarchy that must be maintained to keep the colors separate and unequal. I think it made them feel safe somehow, and superior. If only they’d known the joy that comes from being free of prejudice and racism. I wish with all my heart that the dear and joyful freedom that arises when hatred is no longer, spreads throughout our land and our world like water spilling out of a fire hydrant flooding hot streets with cooling magic.
Dr. Martin Luther King saw, felt, and knew the goodness we humans really possess at our core—and he understood that we all just didn’t see it yet. Yet.
Are we now beginning to see how much more alike we are than different? I believe with all my heart that we are seeing our oneness more—not all the way, but more. Many have walked an unkind, jagged path of separation, wounded and wounding, with tired feet and weary hearts.
The smooth and dear path of love and respect for all calls us toward the future Dr. King saw in his dreams. Let us dream awake his vision.
Thank you, Dr. King.