As we commemorate the life of Dr. M. L. King, and the noble values he espoused, many others could be justifiably recognized for their values, but two come to mind.
Both are sisters.
The first is known as the mother of the civil rights movement; she is recognized wherever people struggle for human rights and dignity, non-violently. The second is not as well known as the first, but she also personifies and maintains these qualities of justice, love and compassion for all.
The mother of the movement, Mrs. Rosa Parks, refused to sit in a racially segregated section of the bus. She demanded equal justice for herself and all citizens in Montgomery, Alabama. She was forcibly removed from her seat because she refused to leave the bus. After her arrest, African American citizens refused to patronize the bus company for a whole year – bringing the public transportation system to its knees.
Dr. M. L. King, a new pastor in Montgomery, was chosen by the black citizens to be their spokesman and mentor during the bus boycott. But violence against him and the boycott escalated, his house bombed and his family threatened. He experienced fear, yet after agonizing periods of prayer and family consultation, he and his allies (including Mrs. Parks) persevered until victory was theirs — the rest is history.
Yes, without Mrs. Parks’ non-violent bravery, justice in Montgomery would not have occurred. Sure, she too was fearful, but she trusted God. She and Dr. King ignited the civil rights movement in Montgomery and subsequently the nation.
She refused to tolerate unjust laws any longer. You see, she too had a dream, an expanded dream of fair treatment and compassion for all.
Fast forward to February 27, 2013; a bronze statue of Mrs. Parks was unveiled at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. This 2,700 pound statue was commissioned by Congress, and is the first full-sized statue of an African American in the Capitol complex (a bust of Dr. King has been on display in the Rotunda since 1986).
Now, let’s fast forward to last week, to our state and to the McNair School in Decatur. A disturbed 20 year old gained entry into the school and took some employees hostage. Immediately, memories and fears of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy came to mind. Thank God, all students and staff escaped unharmed.
A tragedy was averted through the cool headed reaction of the school clerk, Mrs. Antoinette Tuff. At first, she thought of running for her own life. She had a chance to escape, but then she thought of those innocent children. They needed more time. They were frightened. Once again, there seemed to be no justice.
So, Antoinette Tuff went back into the school office, and she talked with the young man. He confessed that he really didn’t want to hurt the children. He realized coming to the school was a mistake; in fact, he didn’t want to hurt anybody at the school. Just call a TV station, and get the police. His issue was with them.
She told him it wasn’t too late to avoid this one. She said she had once been depressed, she considered suicide. However, before going further, friends assured her that compassionate help was available. It was a struggle, but she was able to move on and so could he.
She told him she loved him, and would intercede with the police on his behalf. She treated him with love and empathic justice.
Reflect: It is tough to look beyond our own safety, to see the greater importance of the protection of others. Are we afraid to let others know how freighted we are from time to time? Are we willing to look another in the eye, when we feel low, even though we fear rejection from them?
We all experience emotional stress due to circumstances we confront. Have we sought help from sensitive people or agencies in the community as we navigate our troubled personal storms?
Rosa Parks, Dr. King and Antoinette Turf faced the challenge to live justly, love mercy and exhibit unselfish compassion.
It’s no easy task, but try it.
So says the old spiritual, “there’s plenty of good room in the Father’s kingdom . . . just choose your seat and sit down.”
Rev. Joseph L. Roberts, Jr.