Written by Shancia Jarrett
What are we celebrating on this very day, January 19, 2015? Human resources and administrators coin this day- the third Monday in January- as a paid day off, a federal holiday, or an opportunity to receive over-time. Most employees are simply content with having a day off or an extended weekend. Yet I must admit my own insensitivity and failure to acknowledge the contributions and the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is a father, a husband, a prophet, a martyr, a theologian, a minister, and a social activist who daily gave of himself to honor God and to love the children of God (Matthew 12: 28-31[King James Version]). Within this reflection, I will briefly discuss Dr. King as a theologian and the current need for underrepresented communities and their allies to revisit the contributions of Dr. King and his devoted obedience to the divine calling of Jesus Christ to be a liberating voice within a nation of injustice.
During high school, my English teacher made certain to inform students that Dr. King plagiarized his dissertation. Ironically, I was too apprehensive to engage her accusations or further independently investigate her claims. I didn’t care whether or not she envisioned Dr. King as an unaccredited scholar. The world will never remember her name or her contributions; whereas, the world will never forget Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the winner of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, and the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. For the first time, I encountered biased attitudes and assaults towards the academic accomplishments of the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. While reflecting upon the statement of my English teacher, it was quite a disheartening atmosphere. The classroom room was filled with academically ambitious minority students who were certain to further their education.
Critics of Dr. King such as my teacher who professed bias and academically incriminating doctrines upon minority students were needed in order for me to understand the realities of being Black within American society. Whether or not Blacks academically equipped themselves and demonstrated their capabilities, there still remained stigmas of inferiority. I cannot imagine the intensive adversities in which Dr. King endured in the segregated South during the 1940s and 1950s. I am certain my encounters with academic discrimination and racism were simply the nugatory antics of a racially insensitive teacher; Dr. King’s realities of racism and discrimination were chronic attributes of the American culture and the educational system.
Nevertheless, I transformed this discouraging moment into a learning opportunity by obtaining a deeper theological understanding of grace and the sovereign power of God’s will in the lives of men, through reading the works of Dr. King. From reading Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and I’ve been to the Mountaintop speech, it is evident that Dr. Kings assimilates a Christ centered approach towards injustice. This Christ centered approach is what I call an extension of grace beyond the unmerited favor of God. Grace becomes the ability of one to immerse his/her self in the favor of the Lord; to become “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Preparing [sic] the way of Lord, making [sic] His path straight (Isaiah 40: 3, Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23 [King James Version]).”
In the opening remarks of his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King develops a systematic and an effective analysis of nonviolent campaigns. He divides his campaign into “four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action (1963).” The most intriguing step of Dr. King’s analysis is the concept of self-purification. After identifying the existence of injustice, advocates of social justice enter into a state of self-purification. Although Dr. King does not further expound upon the process of self-purification, I refer to it as the Christian call of repentance, where an individual reflects on his/her relationship with God and vows to strengthen their relationship with the Almighty through baptism, an outward sign of faith that cleanses an individual of sin and gives birth to a new life in the Body of Christ. Similar to the voice of John the Baptist who precedes the coming Christ, Dr. King calls the American people, regardless of their racial heritage, into a humbling state of nonviolent obedience and moral repentance. This pivotal stage of self-purification is the most important concept of making a change, especially a change that requires peace. For it is written, within the Scriptures that men receive grace from our Lord Jesus Christ and peace from God, the Father (Galatians 1 [King James Version]). If a man desires peace and grace, then he must be ready to enter into a state of self-purification.
The direct action stage driven by nonviolent tensions resemble the straight path for the way of the Lord as He enters into the hearts of men. [Do you understand how this man called by God makes the Scriptures come alive? Amen! LOL!] King classifies direct actions such as boycotts and public sermons as a means of “creating situations so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiations (1960).” Just as John the Baptist and Jesus Christ publicly proclaimed the Word to dispute injustice and promote social inclusion; Dr. King courageously ministered the Gospels and prepared the way for the Lord. On March 25, 1965, he led thousands of nonviolent protesters on a five day march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama in order to denounce the unequal policies and practices exhibited towards Blacks. The direct actions of marching and preaching led to healthy dialogues between President Lyndon Johnson and Dr. King, the stage of negotiation.
In surrendering to the sovereign will of God, Dr. King, as a husband and a father separated himself from His family and loved ones in order to complete God’s mission. Likewise, Jesus Christ assumed such a devoted tone of obedience to the will of God by drinking of the cup of death, even though, His obedience separated Him from the tangible presence of His family and loved ones (Luke 22:42 [King James Version]). Since, we believe in the Incarnation, Christ being truly divine and truly man, Jesus Christ in the garden of Gethsemane encountered similar feelings of anxiety and sorrow; yet, He remained obedient to the will of His Father, God. In his speech, I’ve been to the Mountaintop, a day before his assassination, Dr. King prophesied his death and proclaimed his obedience to God. He boldly stated, “Like anybody I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now; I just wanna do God’s will.” Although, he desired to live out his days upon the Earth, his life was no longer centered on his personal desires and ambitions; instead he surrendered and submitted himself to the sovereign will of God. [Whoever knows me personally, certainly knows I said, “Amen” while reading and listening to this speech. Yet, I’m still a struggling Christian who fears the calling of Jesus Christ… Another topic for another for reflection, the verse, “no man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62 [King James Version]),” daily plagues my mind… I just had to put it out there.]
In the current state of American society, racial tensions remain at a skyrocketing height. The deaths of Black males such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Ramarley Graham remind society of how law enforcers and judicial systems value and perceive the lives of Blacks. However, the courts define justice; minority racial groups continuously receive verdicts based on the legality of fear. Within the judicial system, respondents and their attorneys utilize defensives pleas based on the uncertainty of their fears to justify the deaths of Black males. These atrocities are not novel scenarios, in 1963, Dr. King described this epidemic as an, “ugly record of police brutality [sic] known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality.” Well, now its 2015 and changes occurred. However, Blacks are still crying for their sons!
After reading this reflection, please join in praying the Hail Mary. Similar to Mary, mothers watch as their sons die:
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.