Standing With Martin Luther King, Jr.

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I come to this weekend every year and feel detached from the reality of Martin Luther King Jr.—his family, his friends and his community. I don’t feel like I am a part of his suffering or his courage. But I want to be because as Chandra White-Cummings reminded us, we are sisters and brothers in Christ and we are needed.

I feel a special affinity with those who speak Spanish. This has opened me to the issues of laborers who pick our food and live in terrible conditions. I try to insist on buying things that don’t contribute to functional slavery for migrant workers here or abroad. But I have not felt connected to the African-American community.

And yet this word gather has made me rethink, re-feel.

In Seattle, there is a physical gap that largely divides the black community from the rest of the metro area. I’ve always wondered about that. An exposé on our local public radio station revealed that there used to be ‘sundowner’ laws—people of color could work north of the canal, but could not be there after dark.

Ugh.

A large suburban community not far from here turned out to still have those regulations on the books—actual laws prohibiting black people from living there.

Ugh.

My child attended a school in that area and came home one day, at 6 years of age, spouting racial slurs. I wondered why children would be particularly closed in that small place. Now I know—these written statues.

We might say, “Oh, people of color live there now. That was all a long time ago.But it’s not. I can still feel the tenor there. I thought it was just me. Maybe my shoes were not expensive enough, or my kids were too energetic and goofy to fit in. We were not welcome. But really, no one from outside was welcome.

And yet, there have been moments over the years that have felt purely right. Delightful. I remember teaching an ESL class and counting 18 different countries present, and the many wonderful meals we shared while creating community together. Those meals felt so right. My infant son was passed from hand to hand, held, doted on, spoiled as faces so different from his own, accepted and loved him.

That moment felt so right. So many different people were represented. There was so much warmth. How did I miss that those moments were a reflection of the Kingdom of God, where every tribe and nation and language will be fully present, more than welcome, entirely delighted in.

The black community in the United States has had a devastating year. It must be tough to keep believing that the words of Martin Luther King Jr. are falling on any ears willing to listen, that the divisions and barriers will ever lessen.

In past years we have gone to the center of the city to hear his words and listen to his heart. This year, I’ve learned more. I know that there are particular systems in place in my neighborhood that need to be actively dismantled. There are people that need the encouragement of others coming to stand with them.

I think we need to drive farther this time. Over the separating canal, to the big church that hosts a celebration every year to mark the extraordinary life and death of this leader, this son of a divided nation. This church father who is also mine.

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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