“You’ll understand when you’re older,” feels like one of the most overstated, yet underestimated phrases of a young person’s time. I don’t dare to count how many times such a phrase, or one similar, was told to me as I was growing up. I remember that this phrase was used when I didn’t understand why I couldn’t participate in or have something my childish heart desired. I don’t, however, remember hearing it when my parents heavily encouraged me to study or read Black History and I begrudgingly complied. I’m thankful for their prudence in not using words of shame to force an understanding I simply would not grasp for several years, but now that I am older, I’m beginning to get it.
Today we celebrate what would’ve been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 88th birthday. Today we honor a man who fought boldly for a deserved justice withheld from people of color. Today we remember the sacrifice Dr. King, and the many people that supported him, made in an effort to secure a long awaited freedom. Today I get it.
When Dr. King orated his infamous “I Have A Dream Speech,” my father was 7 years old. Too young to understand the full gravity of the time in which he lived, but old enough to be sincerely affected by his surroundings, my father experienced the regulation of integration firsthand. He was one of the little black boys that Dr. King hoped would be able to join hands with one of the little white boys and stand as brothers.
I re-watched Dr. King’s speech this morning. I sat at my kitchen table, at the house I can rightfully live in and cried. I sat, wiping my face, shortly after my white roommates had left for work and cried. My tears, I realized, were shed for several reasons. My watermarked cheeks were due to the passion in Dr. King’s voice. His diction was powerful, precise, and penetrating. I shook my head because some of Dr. King’s dreams haven’t come true. Sometimes people choose to see my skin color only and ignore the content of my character. I continued to cry because some of Dr. King’s dreams have come true. I live with two white girls and not because I’m their maid! I wept because for the first time, I realized Dr. King wasn’t talking entirely about having dreams of freedom on earth. Due to his strong foundation as a believer in Christ, I believe the fullness of freedom Dr. King dreamt of is the fullness of freedom that awaits us in Heaven.
A fullness he is now joyfully experiencing…
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream
Maybe this is far too obvious. Probably. But I don’t think I had a category to understand this when I was younger. When I first learned about Dr. King, I was probably around the same age my father was when Dr. King first gave his speech. At 7, I didn’t have a space in my mind to contemplate injustice, death, or racism. Now, at 23, I’ve grown to understand these three evils; however, I’ve also grown in my understanding of the gospel and the hope I have in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
What Jesus did on the cross, mediating between God the Father and man, has secured a way to the Promised Land, full of freedom and love and a peace unimaginable. It is in this truth that I resolve to put my hope. In light of unwarranted gun violence, in light of hostile riots, in light of hateful speech, in light of gross misunderstanding, I wait for the freedom of Heaven. This truth holds for opposing situations as well. In light of integration, in light of protective laws, in light of upheld constitutional rights, in light of moves toward racial reconciliation, I long for the freedom of Heaven.
Dr. King, you paved the way. You paved the way for a movement that swept the nation and had a ripple effect. You lead by example and showed our country that boldness is nothing without love. You demonstrated the necessity of action and the grace needed to withstand stupidity. You taught the Word that reads “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24). At 7, I didn’t understand the gravity or importance of your movement, I didn’t understand how deeply your dependence upon the Lord was, I didn’t understand that the hope you inspired was the same hope you also clung to. I didn’t understand…
But now at 23, I do. At least, I’m beginning to. You fought fearlessly because you recognized that your identity was one of dignity. You marched mercifully because that’s exactly what your Savior did. Our country has come a long way since the 28th of August in 1963, and it has a long way to go. I hope, Dr. King, that as I grow older I can fearlessly participate in the fight you started, armed with the faith that kept you grounded.