Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Yet Another Doctor To Thank

Yesterday was MLK Day - a day to celebrate the birthday and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Did I go to a march here in Charlotte to honor and celebrate his life?
Did I attend a march on Washington to demand more equality and justice for all?
Did I serve the homeless, the hungry or the poor?
Did I read a book about Dr. King or watch a documentary about his life?
Nope, nope, and nope again.

I woke up alone in a hotel room with a view of the pool and a walkway to the beach in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I took advantage of the coffee delivery service offered by the hotel, and after savoring that cup of coffee, I went for a long walk on the beach. I returned to the room where I showered, got dressed, packed our bags, and went outside to begin to put our stuff in the trunk. Daniel returned from spending the night at the vacation home of one of his tennis buddies. After he changed his clothes and we finished packing our stuff into the car, we spent the morning and early afternoon at the Van der Meer tennis center in Shipyard at the tennis tournament my son was participating in. At 2:15 in the afternoon, he and I began our journey home from that beautiful island I love so much.

While on the surface, yesterday was a day like so many others we have spent at so many other tennis tournaments, I was fully aware of the significance of our presence there on MLK Day.

Fifty years ago, when Dr. King was still alive, nothing that happened to me and Daniel yesterday or this past weekend as a whole would have been possible.

* First of all, Daniel would probably not even be alive because interracial marriage wasn't legal in many states here in the South. Not that Daniel was born in the South, but our marriage and his birth would certainly have been frowned upon, even in many of the northern states in the mid 1960s.
* But assuming Steve and I were married and Daniel had been alive 50 years ago, he and I would not have been able to stop and use the facilities at the gas station or rest area on our way from Charlotte to Hilton Head.
* We would not have been able to stay at the beach resort we enjoyed this weekend.
* He would not have been invited to stay in the home of a white tennis player.

* We would not have been welcome in or served at most of the restaurants on Hilton Head.
* We would not have been granted admission to the tennis centers where he played.
* He would not have been allowed to participate in the tennis tournament.
* I would not have been permitted to walk on the beach and speak to or even look at the white people there - unless I was serving them food or drink or taking care of their children.

Frequently during the course of our time there, I thought about the history of race relations here in North and South Carolina. I gave thanks for the dedication and sacrifice, the risks and demands, the belief and hope that Dr King brought to his pursuit of truth and justice for all.

I acknowledge that the experience Daniel and I had this weekend was probably due more to our financial status than improvement in race relations - although it didn't matter how much money black people had 50 years ago. The color of our skin would have been enough to exclude us from many places and opportunities during the time of Jim Crow laws.

I know that as a nation, as families, and as individuals we still have many old wounds that need to heal. I know there are many new wounds being inflicted on a daily basis due to our ongoing prejudices based on race, age, gender, skin color, hair color, body size, religion, church denomination, country of origin, first language, health status, sexual preference, employment status, immigration status, economic resources, city and neighborhood of residence, political affiliation, preferred source of nightly news, and so many others. We are experts at erecting boundaries and borders to keep ourselves separate and hopefully above others. We are also rather proficient at finding ways to beat up on and condemn ourselves for attributes both under and out of our control. There is still so much work to be done in our world and in ourselves.

Nonetheless, today I am thanking Dr Martin Luther King Jr for being a drum major for love, for righteousness, and for equality. I thank him for endangering and ultimately sacrificing his life not only to break the strangle hold of racism, fear, violence and hatred in this nation but also so that people like me and my husband could fall in love, get married and then raise our children here in the South. I thank those who followed after him and also lost their lives for our sake and on behalf of others. I thank my father and mother for moving from South Carolina and North Carolina respectively up to New York City where they met and fell in love and brought me and my three brothers into the world.

I thank God and pray daily for those who continue to work for freedom, justice, and peace. The battle is far from over. By some measures, things are worse for the poor in this country today than in Dr. King's time. That is truly sorrowful.

Although we didn't do anything particularly special or unselfish yesterday, Daniel and I will volunteer at the food pantry again on Friday - honoring Dr King as well as those we will serve. I will regularly remind my boy and myself of how much of the richness, the beauty, and the privilege of the lives we lead came about because of that famous doctor that we need to honor and thank - and not only on the 3rd Monday in January.

PS. My daughter spent yesterday at her university home-away-from-home, up in the mountains of North Carolina, living out the dream of Dr King and others that our sons and daughters would someday be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character... and their intellects, their GPAs, and their determination to be excellent students.

No comments: