Monthly Archives: January 2018

Telling the Truth in America

CV02b_1U4AEbWtj

“I think we do need truth and reconciliation in America. But truth and reconciliation are sequential. You can’t get to reconciliation until you first tell the truth.” – Bryan Stevenson

My dad was born and raised in Kennett, Missouri, the largest town in the Missouri Bootheel located just across the Arkansas border and not far from the Mississippi River. He was born in 1920, over four decades before singer-songwriter, Sheryl Crow, Kennett’s most famous native.

I don’t know much about my dad’s childhood years but have never forgotten a haunting story he told of witnessing the lynching of a black man on the courthouse lawn for allegedly raping a white woman. Children were not supposed to be there, but my dad wiggled his way to the front while the crowd was shamefully mesmerized by the spectacle of a human being with a noose around his neck being asked if he had any final words. The man answered, “Well, I didn’t do it, but I know that doesn’t make any difference to you all.” And then he was killed.

I don’t remember my dad telling the story with any particular emotion so I’m not sure why he shared it with his young son over fifty years after the fact, but it was obvious that it had made an impression. And here I am almost another fifty years later telling it again. If you wonder how far we have to go back to find race-motivated lynchings on a courthouse lawn, for me it is one generation.

I think Bryan Stevenson is a remarkable human being and encourage you to read/watch/listen to him in any way that you can. Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (“EJI”) in Montgomery, Alabama, and among many wonderful projects had the idea of telling the truth about lynchings in the United States.  EJI published a report titled, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, which documented over 4,000 lynchings between 1877-1950—a period of time after, of course, the Civil War, the abolition of slavery, and the other Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution. I looked at the map and noted zero lynchings identified in Dunklin County, Missouri, where Kennett is the county seat. I know a man who witnessed one, so I can only imagine how many race-motivated lynchings actually occurred.

Stevenson’s message is that we must tell the truth before we get anywhere on racial reconciliation, so on a day set aside to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I will use my small platform to say that my personal heritage includes a history and ongoing legacy of things we can be proud of alongside things for which we should be deeply ashamed. We cannot honestly claim one without the other. And among those things that require deep shame is nothing less than domestic terrorism that targeted a particular race of people motivated by white supremacy.

May we tell the truth. May we lay markers so that we never forget. And may we recommit to the pursuit of Dr. King’s not-yet-realized dream.

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted and every hill and mountain shall be made low; the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963)

Advertisements

Eyes on the Prize

quote-3

I love me a new year, but I like it better one week in.

The starting gun fires, the race commences, and some yahoos foolishly sprint to the lead for a brief moment until reality reminds them that they are in over their heads and they fade into oblivion. That is when the race really begins. Once the crowd thins and the race gets real, the true competitors search for their pace and ask themselves important questions about their hearts, minds, souls, and strength. That is what happens about one week into a brand new year, and I want to be a true competitor in this race called life.

So here we go.

I want to look deep into my soul this year. Will I avoid the unsettling quiet required to explore the frightening corners of my own heart?

I want to spend myself on others this year. Will I allow fear, pride, and privilege to keep me away from confronting the injustice in my own community?

I want to remember important stories from the past this year. Will I let the sirens pull me mindlessly forward and forget the treasures found in old experiences?

I want to push my boundaries this year so that I grow. Will I permit the deception of comfort and routine lull me into complacency, or will I have the courage required to test uncharted waters?

I know the right answers to all of these questions, but the breathless pace and the long road ahead demand that I maintain focus, avoid distraction, and keep my eyes on the prize.

It is time to settle in and do the work.

This Is a New Year – by Howard Thurman

Happy-New-Year-Wishes-2018-1

This is a New Year. The calendar says so. I note the fact by marking it so when I wish to designate the day and the year as distinguished from some other day and year. It may be that my contract says so. It is indicated clearly in the lease I signed or the agreement I attested. It is curious how much difference can be marked between the two dates — December 31 and January 1.

Yet there are many things that move unchanged, paying no attention to a device like the calendar or arrangements such as contracts or leases. There is the habit pattern of an individual life. Changes in that are not noted by the calendar, even though they may be noted on the calendar. Such changes are noted by events that make for radical shifts in values or the basic rearrangement of purposes. There are desires of the heart or moods of the spirit that may flow continuously for me whatever year the calendar indicates. The lonely heart, the joyful spirit, the churning anxiety may remain unrelieved, though the days come and go without end.

But, for many, this will be a New Year. It may mark the end of relationships of many years’ accumulation. It may mean the first encounter with stark tragedy or radical illness or the first quaffing of the cup of bitterness. It may mean the great discovery of the riches of another human heart and the revelation of the secret beauty of one’s own. It may mean the beginning of a new kind of living because of marriage, of graduation, of one’s first job. It may mean an encounter with God on the lonely road or the hearing of one’s name called by Him, high above the noise and din of the surrounding traffic. And when the call is answered, the life becomes invaded by smiling energies never before released, felt, or experienced. In whatever sense this year is a New Year for you, may the moment find you eager and unafraid, ready to take it by the hand with joy and with gratitude.

  • Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas, 124 (1973).