As a kid growing up in the 70s in Milwaukee, I saw the aftereffects of the civil rights movement, and it has stayed with me my entire life. I saw kids getting bused to schools far away from their homes, I saw angry people who had grandparents and aunties and uncles who were alive to hear the stories from slaves. I saw people still fighting for the equality that should have been theirs from birth.
Had I been born a few years before, I might have been able to see Dr. King. I look forward to the day when I will one day enter the pearly gates and meet him. I suspect he’ll have a long line of people waiting to talk to him, to thank him.
While it’s wrong to idolize any man, I do have a great respect for Martin Luther King, Jr. I know he is a man and imperfect like all of us are, but I also know what he did was extraordinary. He is an American hero, standing up to hate, fighting it with love.
How Do You Stand Up to Hate Without Being Hateful Yourself?
Being a Christian doesn’t mean you close your eyes to the injustices in the world. It doesn’t mean you put a smile on your face as others treat you unfairly, and it certainly doesn’t mean you shrug off hate and racism. I’m shocked by the people who love Jesus and yet close their eyes to the mistreatment of others.
If the civil rights movement taught me anything, it is that nonviolent protest and using your voice is exactly the way to combat hate and injustice. Civil rights leaders like King and John Lewis withstood beatings, personal and business attacks, and hate directed in so many forms it astounds me that they fought like they did. Despite everything they endured, they kept their eyes on the goal of a society where all were equal.
Turning the Other Cheek
I get notes from fellow Christians and non-believers alike who say something like, “Way to show love by being hateful!” when I call someone out for spreading lies and hate. Again and again I tell people that standing up to hate is love. Love isn’t always passive. Look at what Jesus did for us to show us he loved us. Look at all God did to show us. It was active love, love that would not stand by and accept whatever hateful people did.
We all have to act our conscience and search what God is telling us. God gave me a voice. I am an artist and a writer and I speak through these mediums, but I also raise my voice and make calls and volunteer and call out people who hate on someone else. I don’t always get it right, but being silent means I will always have it wrong.
Years ago we were at a family gathering and one of my aunts openly attacked my godmother, who was not there. It was shocking, her meanness and nasty comments, but we all sat there saying nothing. Perhaps even, laughing politely. It made me sick. Afterward, I could not let the thought go that I had let down my godmother, who I love very much, by not speaking up to my aunt, who was being abusive and wrong.
I ended up calling my godmother to apologize. Told her I sat there saying nothing while my aunt did the nasty speech trick that she uses to manipulate people in our family. My godmother forgave me. But while this example is nothing compared with the civil right movement, its lesson was clear to me. Why sit silently and allow others to be picked on? Why is that okay?
It appears to be okay with so many people I see right now. Christians who have good lives themselves and yet allow another person to abuse someone physically, verbally, or emotionally. To limit their rights. How is that love?
The Lessons of the Civil Rights Moment
Time does a number on us sometimes. We get comfortable. We forget the struggle that gave us the lives we are allowed to enjoy. If Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement taught us anything, it was that we must not sleep while others are being treated poorly. If we see it, we stand up to it with love. We continue with nonviolent activism until everyone can enjoy the kind of lives we would want for ourselves.