"Is there anything you wish people didn't do for Black History month?" I asked my friend Kayla as we drove through the LA traffic to attend the final day of the Preaching Masterclass conference. She thoughtfully considered the question and answered, "I wish people would move away from focusing only on Martin Luther King Jr." Her point was not that MLK Jr. was not worth celebrating. Far from it. Her point was that it had become too easy to quote the most familiar African American figure in history. One of the few African Americans allowed in our U.S. history books (during our time) and included as a federal holiday.
The truth is, stories and efforts of African American men and women, painted from a specific angle in our U.S. history books, had tainted their efforts to no more than lukewarm mediocrity. Many considered MLK Jr. a political figure, disagreed with his methods, and many white churches resisted his call to join the fight against injustice. The FBI believed he was dangerously effective and pursued an agenda to destroy him. Rosa Parks did not simply refuse to give up her seat because she was tired. She was a chosen representative to demonstrate a deliberate act of resistance publicly. The 1619 project by Nikole Hannah Jones, a brilliant ongoing initiative, has become politicized and accused of "seeking to reframe American history as fundamentally racist."
As Jones wrote, "our democracy's founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true."
Unless we move beyond the quotes and into truth-seeking, we will never know how costly their efforts were and how we have benefited from the fruit of their labor. Effects that have reverberated throughout multiple communities, not just theirs. We will miss the opportunity to challenge our assumptions, feel our offense, and become more Christ-like as we face our own truths. Church, do not miss this opportunity to sharpen yourselves as we seek to create partnerships with different communities this next season.
Remember my dear friend Kayla's voice, and may it illuminate our desire to become truth-seekers: "I wish people would move away from focusing only on Martin Luther King Jr."