By MELINDA J. OVERSTREET
Glasgow Daily Times
A church where several of my friends and acquaintances are members, in a city where I used to live, marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day in its own way – with what its congregation calls a coffee house.
The evening features music, poetry and original skits oozing with satire, all centered around the optimistic concepts of social justice, equality and civil and human rights. It’s mostly fun, but it’s always thought provoking and, when appropriate, somber.
It was 2012, I think, when I attended the event for the first time in several years. I hadn’t lived in the city for a while, and a member of my extended family by a former marriage – virtually a generation older – gladly went with me. It just so happened that apparently the only black people that evening in probably the most open, welcoming congregation I’ve ever encountered were a couple of friends I had also brought with me.
The older woman told me she was enjoying herself, but she wondered why there weren’t more black people there. She said something to the effect of: “It really is for them, after all.”
The comment stunned me, coming from her, because I know her to have a loving and accepting – not just tolerant – heart. I wondered how, after all these years, even with – or, actually, especially with – the wisdom of nearly 20 more years of life than I had, she still hadn’t realized the opposite is true.
I found myself speechless.
I thought of that moment as I prepared to write this newspaper’s preview story for Glasgow’s commemoration of King’s birthday, which certainly is not only for those whose skin is darker.
Advancements toward equal civil rights for which King and many others have fought – and too many, including him, lost their lives – benefit us all, because they lead to a better society.
Sure, the primary beneficiaries of King’s work were black, but the Civil Rights Act – for which we will observe the half-century mark this year – provides protections for all people of all colors. Those efforts have touched us all in one way or another, as will the efforts yet to be made.
My life has been richer and I’ve learned more because of the variance, not the sameness, of the people I’ve met, and I’d love to get to know people from even more ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
We all benefit when we can all live, work, play and, for those who choose to do so, pray in harmony. It lifts us all when we share diverse ideas and help each other identify which concepts are likely to succeed and which need tweaking, and then we work out the kinks together.
We gain a better understanding of anything when we view it from different perspectives. We don’t have to always agree with another person’s viewpoint. Why would we want a world where everyone thinks exactly the same way? Or looks exactly the same? Boring.
We can, however, show respect to people we believe to be polar opposites of ourselves, and when we listen with our hearts, we can almost always find at least one thing in common. Certain things are universal, after all, like a smile, a laugh – and love.
Amazing improvements have occurred in my lifetime toward equality, but much work remains in our own backyard, not to mention globally. That growth has sometimes come at a terrible price, and that, unfortunately, will likely continue to be the case. It has seldom, if ever, come without the teamwork of those being oppressed and those who care enough to be their allies.
I believe it’s important for anyone of any color – or combination of colors – who shares King’s vision, at least on this one day but hopefully more often, to reflect on the past and to literally and figuratively march forward to transform into reality the dream of what we should be, and do so in solidarity.
As our great commonwealth’s motto states: United we stand, divided we fall.