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 Jerry, 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 was born and lived in Omaha, Nebraska from 1951 to 1975. I remember the 50’s and 60’s being particularly rough times for black people living in Omaha. Schools, public pools, movie theaters and entire neighborhoods were segregated. I vividly remember being part of the second year that black students attended my high school. I also remember being physically and verbally harassed when desegregating a movie theater and a local swimming pool. My friends and I were chased out of white neighborhoods by armed white teenagers for attempting to shop at one of their hobby shops.
What memories do you have of Martin Luther King, Jr.?
I was not originally a follower of Reverend King. As a 15 year old with no relationship with Jesus I couldn’t understand the philosophy of militant non-violence. However, my 16 year old brother followed Dr. King’s teaching and participated in local sit-ins. When he came home with welts on his back from being beaten with billy clubs by the police, I felt that this confirmed my belief that only violence would prevent their violence.
I remember watching the March on Washington on TV with my parents and hearing some of the “I Have A Dream” speech, but back then I thought MLK and his followers were just dreaming.
What about MLK inspires hope in you?
Pretty much everything in MLK’s life inspires hope in me. He was a deeply flawed person like me who took Jesus at his word when Jesus said, “pick up your cross and follow me.” Something in particular that gives me hope is from one of his speeches. He said that: “Even the worst of us has the image of God in him that may yet respond to love.” We may never make the impact that Martin made, but who knows what a life surrendered to Jesus might do when simply following the Spirit’s lead?
How did you experience hope in the struggle for racial justice as a young person?
I honestly didn’t have much hope as a teenager especially when so many of my friends and other unarmed black people were beaten and shot to death by police, and my own parents were so mistreated on their jobs and didn’t even receive adequate medical care from local doctors and hospitals. When the voting rights act was enforced in the Deep South and Shirley Chisholm and others began to be elected to Congress, I began to have hope that things might actually slowly change for the better in our country.
After Vietnam, when I was discharged from the military, I moved to Portland, Oregon and began to receive better job and educational opportunities that gave me hope for a better future for myself and my wife and children.
How has your life with Jesus shaped your hope over the years?
While living in Portland, my wife attended a Bible study and gave her life to Jesus. Seeing the change in my wife’s life, and listening to a Christian radio station she left on in the kitchen, I decided to give Jesus a try. The transformation in my life was slow but nothing short of miraculous considering my previous addiction to sex, drugs and rock and roll. Gradually I began to see how the teachings of Jesus to love our enemies is the only way to bring about the change of heart that people need. I even came to believe that the Civil Rights Movement led by MLK and others may have been a move of God’s Spirit.
As I’ve grown in my discipleship in Christ, I’ve studied books by Christian authors and historians that chronicle the effect of Jesus followers who were martyred for translating the Bible, and others who built hospitals and universities, etc. Sure, Christians have been responsible for some of the worst atrocities in history but it’s also unmistakable what Christ can do with lives that are humbly committed to following him. These days, as my life has been more transformed by my relationship with Jesus through prayer, Bible study and the fellowship of the saints, I no longer place my hope in political change but in the return of Jesus, the new heaven and new earth.
What words of hope do you have to give to others at Woodland?
Try to remember that Jesus is the smartest person in any room, ask his advice before proceeding with anything, it only takes a moment and he will lead you in the way of love, and love never fails.