A few hours later, I returned to campus for the MLK march. The experience of being in a throng of people, hundreds strong, and occupying the whole street for at least two blocks, was moving. The mood was friendly and light, not angry. I spend a lot of my time when I’m thinking about social justice being angry. The students around me were enjoying the march, talking with one another. Some carried signs and banners. The speeches at the city square were also uplifting.
My day ended with a late viewing of the movie “Just Mercy,” about the life and work of Bryan Stevenson. Seeing the drama of this lawyer defending death row inmates in Alabama (for free) was very challenging. It showed so graphically the injustice of the justice system, which incarcerates young Black men at such a high rate and allows them to be convicted of crimes falsely. It is tempting to think that this is only because it was in Alabama, but the truth is that racism has thrived, and may be on the upswing, in Michigan as well.
Martin Luther King is one of my favorite Americans. He is a role model of courage and perseverance and truth-telling; a pioneer of nonviolent strategy; and a master of inspiring prose. Yesterday I watched a movie that reminded me of the terrible injustice and inequality that Dr. King opposed, and I experienced a brunch and a march that immersed me in a new generation of young Americans learning about and celebrating this man’s life and work. It was a great way to spend the holiday.
Spirit of Baptist pulpits in Alabama and seminary classrooms in Boston, spirit of the jail cells where Dr. King languished and the streets where he marched, be with me now.
Great spirit of justice and love and fairness, spirit that brother King drew upon in his dark times and in his inspired times, be here now.
Spirit of greatness, be with the students of CMU who marched and sang yesterday, the ones who showed up for their friends, and the ones who came out of a desire to do the right thing.
Show us the way forward into hope in a world that still has white supremacists spreading hate and violence.
Show us the way into love in a world where black and white still feel like totally different experiences in America.
Show us that we all can do better, that we can live together, we can celebrate even as we struggle, that we can laugh even as we march. May the spirit of Dr. King and of all those who struggled in his day be with now as we join our voices with theirs and walk our steps where theirs have walked.
Glory hallelujah. Amen.