I have been afraid of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for most of my life. And it all started with Jesus.
One of if not the first time that my parents ever let me stay alone at home while they were gone was on an April evening in 1968. My little sister was in bed, and I felt so very grown up as I watched television in the living room of our quaint little ranch house in suburban Columbus Ohio. I sat in my fathers’ favorite chair as for this evening I was the one in charge. As I continued to watch TV and to contemplate having a usually forbidden late evening snack regular programming was interrupted by a news bulletin announcing the assassination of a minister-Civil Rights leader earlier that evening on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The name was recognizable to me, though only through contracted reactions to the work the man was doing on behalf of the people my family seemed intent on avoiding. He was a trouble making preacher, and even his murder was evoking violence and rioting not long after the announcement of his death.
I began to sink lower into my fathers’ chair, and the moments ago celebration of sudden independence gave way to a nagging anticipation of hearing my parents’ car arriving back into the carport of our home. I purposefully angled the swivel chair so that I could not be seen from the decorative window in our living-room located front door. In my nine year old mind the rioting throngs were soon to be upon our porch. Reports of violence were spreading beyond the confines of Memphis, and I was just sure Columbus was going to be next. Though my parents carefully located our family several miles from “them,” I reasoned that the separation would make us even more of a target. The repeated photos of the slain leader imprinted within my emotional body a wounding that would take years of conscious exploration to fully recognize. Even after I had come to greatly appreciate and even emulate the vast contributions of this masterful man, photographs of him invoked a subtle yet palpable ripple of fear throughout my body. Even while actively marching in MLK walks and peaceful civil rights demonstrations, I found myself averting my eyes from pictures and graphic representations of him.
Beyond the race related implications this experience would come to teach me, there is perhaps a greater lesson that is even now becoming clearer as I work toward another Rev. Dr. King observance. The unconscious lesson I received on that fateful April evening was that if you have a dream and work relentlessly toward the actualization of it you well might be killed. And this is where the example of Jesus comes in. I learned from an even earlier age than nine that kind, compassionate, loving, perfect people who take an unconditional stand as an exemplification of Source are murdered in the name of the very Source they chose to serve. Though a twist of theology seeks to justify this cruel and vicious act in a rendering of “God’s will for humanity,” the unconscious message is not averted. Take an uncompromising stand for Truth and universal justice and someone is likely to take your life.
I have always been drawn to radicals within this world, and it has historically been radicals that moved the race consciousness forward. Jesus was certainly a clear example of this. Rev. Dr. King is a superlative representative of this dynamic. So were Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Robert Kennedy, Harvey Milk, Yitzhak Rabin, and Benazir Bhutto. They are just a few of the strong and courageous men and women who took a stand for Truth and were martyred for it. They each had a dream of a better world for all and paid the ultimate price for the actualization of that dream. The subliminal message is clear: to follow the living example is to risk the same uncomely demise. We are even now witnessing the daily character assassination of a modern day prophet who dared to promise the masses that change would come to America, and yes we can.
Though perhaps none of us in this readership will be called to make the kind of demonstration the afore mentioned way showers were driven to make, I wonder how many risks I have failed to take because of an unconscious fear of meeting the same fate as these seeming fearless hero’s? How many times have I remained silent when everything in my being wanted to take a stand for Truth? How many opportunities have I let pass by when mine could have been the voice that made a difference in an ego-mired circumstance? When and where have I fearfully played small when deep within my gut I knew it was my time to stand tall?
I embrace these profound and confrontational questions as I recommit to making my dream of a world that works for all a living reality. I am facing the vestiges of my fear, and I am motivated by my love. Mine may not be the legacy of one of these masters, but their message is alive and thriving in me. They are no longer here. But I am. And I dare to have a dream. I dare to live a dream. I dare to embody a dream. I dare to dare. That little scared boy in Daddy’s chair has grown up now to take a stand. And take a stand I am.
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