This was the first year in six years of being married that I realized our anniversary is on Martin Luther King Jr.’s exact birthday, January 15. After a year of listening to podcasts, reading articles and books and intentionally prying open my eyes to inequalities between the races in the United States, black history month means more to me this year than it ever has.
I recently listened to a very powerful podcast where Krista Tippet of On Being interviewed Senator John Lewis, a Democrat serving in Georgia. Lewis knew MLK personally and was one of six organizers of the 1963 March on Washington during the Civil Rights Movement. In the podcast, he tells about what it meant to be a part of a nonviolent movement. I was surprised to learn that the men and women would practice protesting beforehand to be sure they could respond to threats in a nonviolent way.
Lewis himself was one of the first to be beaten unconscious by the police. He said:
“The movement created what I like to call a nonviolent revolution. It was love at its best. It’s one of the highest forms of love. That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m going to still love you. I know Dr. King used to joke sometimes and say things like, ‘Just love the hell outta everybody. Just love ‘em.'”
That doesn’t always seem to be the spirit of resistance today. If we are protesting, arguing or writing, are we doing it out of love? Am I?
I loved Senator Lewis’ perspective as he talked about the movement to fight for civil rights. He took the long-view. He shared:
“Our struggle is not a struggle that lasts for one day, one week, one month, or one year, or one lifetime. It is an ongoing struggle … And in the end, I knew within my own soul that it was going to be a long haul, and I believe that. You don’t change the world, the society, in a few days. And it’s better. It is better to be a pilot light than to be a firecracker.”
Many of us are angry. In a fight, flight or freeze, we are ready to fight. But perhaps we need to take the less-sexy road and be a pilot light instead of lighting every wick in front of us, enjoying the thrill of being a firecracker, but sacrificing the longevity of a slow and steady burn.
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Beginning March 1st, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.