The theme of our 2023 MLK celebration was “Hope in Action.” Even 60 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream,” speech, much work remains to bring us to true justice, reconciliation and peace. To sustain this work, we need hope. But how do you carry hope when things move so slowly and it’s “two steps forward, one step backward?”
We asked Abe, one of the volunteers on our MLK service planning team, to share his thoughts on hope that sustains action. May his story build up your own hope!
What was your experience like growing up in the 1960s?
I grew up in Picayune, Mississippi – a small, completely-segregated town in southern Mississippi. My mother worked as a maid in the home of a white family in our town but she provided a good life for me. My church was an all-black Baptist congregation and I attended George Washington Carver High School, an all-black school. I graduated from high school in 1964 and attended Jackson State University, which was an all-black college at the time. I graduated from JSU in 1968. I knew as a black youth I was not allowed the privileges my white counterparts enjoyed, but I heard and saw news about the sit-ins and Freedom Rides, and there was a sense that there were changes coming.
What memories do you have of Martin Luther King, Jr.?
I remember Dr. King’s emergence as a champion for racial justice and equality as he gave speeches and went to jail for seeking the rights of black Americans, especially in the South. I watched the March on Washington on TV and was moved by the massive crowd. The “I Have a Dream” speech will always be a source of HOPE for me. My most painful memory was the assassination of MLK in my senior year of college. My college campus erupted in protest and grief as the news spread over the city of Jackson.
What about MLK inspires hope in you?
I am inspired that MLK was willing to call out injustices and stand firm in his beliefs thereby shaking racist systems and causing change.
How did you experience hope in the struggle for racial justice as a young person?
As a young person, watching some of the changes that were beginning to happen gave me hope that things could get better. For instance, voter drives in the South and removing racial signage i.e. Whites Only and Colored were hopeful signs. I had a personal example of hope from my mother who worked hard and instilled in me the hope for a better future by encouraging me to go to college and to see myself as God sees me.
How do you experience hope now in this same struggle?
Sometimes it’s hard to experience hope with some of the racial struggles that we continue to have in 2023. As a black man who has lived 70 plus years in America I have seen both progress and set-backs in “justice for all.” As a follower of Jesus, I believe he came and gave his life to bring peace and destroy the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, between us. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity. Therefore, as a believer, I should live in this truth and not let race be something that I let separate me from my fellow humans.
Our hope has to be in Jesus and his love. If we love with the love that he gives us, we will be reconciled to God and to one another and know the peace he promises.