April 22, 2019

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Challenges

Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day and Black History Month 2013

I now present the essence of what I wrote, when our church celebrated the Dr. King holiday in 2012, and I was privileged to speak to the congregation the Unitarian Universalist Church.  

For me, it was helpful to review my history with Dr. King; it was emotional to read my experience and his words as we honored his memory 

It is the1950s in Elkhart, Indiana; Minnie Minoso is my favorite athlete and the colored boys are often opponents in baseball, basketball and football. I had no knowledge of Martin Luther King.

Toward the end of the 50s, Dr. King joins the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, founds the Southern Christian Leadership Council and studies with Mohammad Gandhi. He leads the executive committee at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and his home is bombed. He receives his Ph.D in philosophy and is on the cover of Time Magazine.

In the 60’s, the Negro Elkhart Blue Blazers are my teammates, Gale Sayers my favorite athlete. Keith and Kerry are my friends and teammates; we never speak of race, civil rights, Malcolm X or Martin Luther King. President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act in 1964. 

Dr. King demonstrates and is often arrested. Laws change; lunch counters, schools and buses are desegregated. I sweat during football practice as King delivers “I Have Dream” before a crowd of 250,000. I have no memory of discussing the speech.

King is Time Magazine’s Man of the Year and wins the Nobel Peace Prize. There is a serious attempt on his life; Black Muslims stone him in Harlem, four girls are killed in a church bombing; and Malcolm X is assassinated. 

In 1966, I attend DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana — a nearly all white school. I am introduced to the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and other Black musicians. As riots and protests continue, Dr. King continues his work in Chicago, in the South and ultimately in Memphis. One march King leads in Tennessee turns violent — definitely not his intent.

In 1968 as I lay in intensive care at Robert Long Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana, I watch television.  News bulletin: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr has been assassinated. Across the country, black people riot. In Indianapolis, Bobby Kennedy talks to a crowd of how we share humanness. No riots, just tears. I am moved. Indianapolis is safe.

1968 is a tough year. There is interest in Eldridge Cleaver, Stokely Carmichael and the movement of Black Power.

In 1969 I am back at DePauw and take a class on Black History in the United States (perhaps the first ever at DePauw). The teacher is a black man from Indianapolis Crispus Attucks High School. We learn about contributions of black people, well beyond sports and music. I hear about Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas, Rosa Parks, Langston Hughes and many others but, as I remember, we do not study Dr. King.

At DePauw, I gain further awareness when I am privileged to attend a lunch with Mayor Richard Hatcher, the first black mayor of Gary, and another with Dr. Percy Julian, a black American Research Chemist. Dr. Julian had waited tables at DePauw in the 1930s and now the DePauw Science Building bears his name.

As a new social worker in the 1970s, I visit the King Memorial in Atlanta when it is just a plan with bulldozers moving dirt to make way for construction.

Taking a hiatus from Dr. King until 1986, I remember the contentious process as Congress declared his birthday a national holiday. There are FBI investigations and tawdry stories about him which added to my interest in Dr. King. For me, it is great our country will honor a black man — still I am unaware of the depth of his contributions.

After the National holiday was set, I began to more fully understand and feel the strength of the man and his speech.

In 1963 Dr. King delivers his speech “I Have a Dream.” He eloquently states: “This is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” He notes that white and black have a tied destiny.   (Read entire speech)

 “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from all corners of our country.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Eventually the words of Dr. King spoke to me deeply. It was as if I could now hear, inside of myself, words that I wanted and want to say and that I stand for. I could not and cannot understand how these words do not speak to everyone.

As I lay in my hospital bed on the last full day of Dr. King’s life, he speaks at church in Memphis; he tells of the privilege of being alive at this time as we grapple with history.
(Read entire speech)

We are interconnected. Similarly we are privileged to be alive on this day.  

King spoke of injustice and financial inequality. When he was involved in the Sanitation Departments dispute with the city of Memphis, he said, “Somewhere I read (Yes the crowd responds) that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right”.

He spoke of the collective financial power of poor people to protest. “If you do not help the sanitation worker what will happen then to you?”

That night in Memphis Dr. King talks of the nearness of death and  that the New York assassination attempt was so close to being fatal.  

He spoke as if knowing he was making the final statement of his life.  As he concluded, with generous Amens, go ahead and applause, Dr. King offered:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

These are the last formal words that Dr. King ever spoke.

My journey with him continues as I work to fully incorporate his teachings.  

Here are my basics: Work for economic and social freedom for everyone and maybe I too can be free. If we do not help others what are we here for? Language of nonviolence is dramatically different than silence. Learn to better appreciate and understand people both similar and different from yourself.

Challenge yourself to live your life fully, so you may be able to say on your last day: “I have been to the mountain top… of doing right with my life. Mine eyes have seen the glory of knowing that I have tried and struggled well.”

 

Bill

 

  

Jackie Robinson: The Right Side of History

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” Martin Luther King

Jackie and Me
Indiana Repertory Theatre
Indianapolis
Playing through February 16

Playwright Steven Dietz adapted Jackie and Me from the book series Baseball Card Adventures by Dan Gutman. Dietz recants the Jackie Roosevelt Robinson conversation heard between his 7-year-old white daughter and 6-year-old black son, a recent adoptee from Ethiopia. 

His daughter, the family baseball historian, tells her brother about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier and adds “But if you were black you could not play.” The brother counters, “Why not? I play. I play ball.” He goes on in his newly learned language: “I have mitt; I have bat; they not stop me.”

I cannot help but hear my granddaughters, Zoe and Reese, in his voice. “I can do it. I play ball, they not stop me.”  Yes the nature of youth — not encumbered with prejudices, limitations, or beliefs. Thankfully they trust they can do or be anything. Unfortunately they learn limitations from the actions of others.

Dietz’s daughter ultimately gets frustrated with her new brother and says “Yes you could play the game. But you could not dream.” At this early age, she gets the nature of prejudice and understands the limitations of our dreaming.

How do we continue to learn from history? How do we avoid the preconceptions and prejudiced judgments of the past? How do we keep our dreams alive and create a country with equal ability to dream and to achieve? Jackie and Me centers on Joey, a white youngster of today. Joey is researching for a book report — wanting to win the top prize of theme park tickets.  He is transported back in time as a black youth to 1947, where he wants to learn about Jackie, the black baseball player.  Of course, the history lesson is expanded beyond his ideas of baseball.

Joey is thirsty and walks up to a “whites only” fountain. As he is chased away, imagine how he feels realizing he is black! Then he meets Rachel Robinson and sees Jackie again. Anger, disbelief, frustration and eventually courage — Joey learns to deal with a mix of emotions as Jackie and Rachel Robinson show the way with pride, patience and perseverance.  

Dodger teammate Dixie Walker did not want to share the field or the club house with a black man. At the same time teammate Pee Wee Reese, a Kentuckian, responds differently standing with Jackie in the face of racism. Eventually, Walker quietly offers that he was “just brought up that way and had little choice in his beliefs.”

How often do we say or think: “that’s just the way it is / just the way I learned / just the way he/she acts?” We may even add: “I can’t do anything about it / I can’t change it / I just want to mind my own business.”

COURAGE — General Manager Branch Rickey and player Pee Wee Reese display bravery to stand up for the right side of history. Rickey signs Robinson. When Pee Wee Reese accepts Robinson to the team, it helps other teammates adjust. Baseball adapts, the world doesn’t end, and black players become part of major league baseball.   

Dr. King said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  Work continues towards his Dream.

So in 1947, while racism did not stop, they all play the game together with a “new norm” for baseball; the country takes a giant step toward the right side of history.

May each of us, individuals, parents and grandparents, practice genuine tolerance, teach acceptance and demonstrate decency that reflects the encouragement of children’s dreams for accomplishment regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.

Bill

(Some information from IRT playbill)



LOOKING for TREASURES

How do you feel as you prepare to do something out of the ordinary? Emotions can run amuck with anticipation, trepidation, speculation and a lot more.

Muncie Public Library hosted a signing event for our children’s book, The Kite Surprise. Our book portrays a kite festival at the beach where young Celia Belle is enchanted with what her brother, Ansel, does in the kite contest.

Story Book History: 1974, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, age 26, an amazing kite contest. My background was kite flying poverty and here I was witnessing this amazing sky filled with kites of all colors, shapes, sizes. When I came to Muncie in 1977, I rapidly heard of Ansel Toney, the kite master in Farmland.

Back to the library event: Hot weather, summertime, Saturday netted thin attendance. However we gained the greatest treasured experience when a couple walked through the doors and introduced themselves. Oren and Marge Toney — that’s right the son of the famous kite maker Ansel Toney, from Farmland, Indiana.

What a thrill when the Toneys came to the library! Oren offered tidbits of glances into the life of his father, the kite master: Interviewed by Charles Kuralt “On the Road” CBS TV show; his dad knew how to adjust and fix things; went to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

His dad, in his mid-80s, took a 67 year old sewing machine (belonging to his wife) and learned to operate it, sewing different designed kites. Eventually the machine just wore out. The manufacturer contributed another sewing machine, but fixed the old one so Mr. Toney could have someone work with him. Oren noted that the manufacturer received a great deal of publicity from that gift.

Did Oren get kites from his dad? With a little smile and eyes twinkling, Oren reported he would go to the farm, do the work and ask for a kite in return. Dad would say “you can build one yourself” — apparently as a way to encourage the son to take up the hobby of dad. Not interested! However, wanting a kite, his wife Marge ordered a kite. When she picked it up and asked for an autograph, Ansel said “who to?” She replied to Oren; it was signed and given at no charge.

Oren continued with tales about French Military kites, Delta kites (which Ansel had a fondness for designing and flying), and the Eddy kite – the green frog kite in our book.

I was thankful that, over the years, I flew kites with my kids and grandchildren. Mostly we flew the Delta kites, those favored and popularized by Mr. Toney. These kites are easy to fly and as Oren remarked, “will stay up as long as there is wind.”

Ansel Toney loved flying kites “you are always looking up.” He was known for getting out the kite which was a sure signal for the kids to come around and enjoy the day. He considered the sky a playground, maybe his own personal one during flying.

Now think about YOUR next event, tomorrow or next week! Big or small, whatever it might be: Will you greet it with anticipation, trepidation, or speculation? We never know what’s around the corner to bring that enriching treasure of memory. Meeting Oren and Marge Toney is one of our inspiring treasures.

Remember: Always keep looking up and let your spirits soar — those gifts of life will find you if you are open to them.

Toney-Kuralt Video

See how to make the Eddy Kite

A Man and His Kite – Farmland IN

Information: The Kite Surprise

Thanks for reading. Keep the wind to your back, it’s a great stress reliever.

Bill

Living: Defining Age

“May there be just enough clouds with your life that you have a beautiful sunset.”  Grandma Viola Stouder Frederick

Have you thought of how you’d like to leave this world? If given the choice few people would choose a long and lingering illness. Some indicate an accident with instant death; others prefer not to wake up from a good sleep.

Aunt Charlotte, 93 years old, was my dad’s sister. She lived life with graciousness and joy. Married 65 years, her home was on the farm belonging to her husband’s family — an Indiana historic farm, recognized in this way because for over 100 years it was owned by the same family. Aunt Charlotte raised her two sons on this remarkable land; she  continued living in that big house until a few years ago. She then moved in with her son, and only early this year moved to more restricted living.

Over the last several weeks of her life, Aunt Charlotte gave her children and grandchildren a gift. They had the chance to say good bye. Even as she struggled   with memory, she maintained a connection with the people closest to her. As the grandchildren hugged her goodbye, they knew she knew them. She waved them out the door.

The story of her passing is most pleasant. She gathered with other residents for lunch. As she ate, she began to feel a bit tired. Returning to her room, she lay down for a nap. The staff found her later in the forever sleep. It seems a good way to die, in a natural sleep.

Aunt Charlotte loved the big farm house and the farm itself. Her pride  of that farm and it’s beauty was in part because of its age. A winding dirt road led up to the two story farmhouse; large trees in the front yard overhung the path and bathed it in shade. I loved the wraparound porch, where you could look through the trees   and see the mailbox setting a bit askew on the county road. The house had additions and of course the old now unused well. It had a junk pile, some sheds and the Hoosier icon — the barn with a rusty basketball hoop on the side.

She, like my Uncle Bob, had this twinkle in her eye, this appreciation of the day even as days of her life were often full of work with the farm and family.

In the 1930s, years before she married Uncle Paul, my aunt and my mom were good friends. My sister’s middle name is Charlotte; I always knew she was named after Aunt Charlotte. My cousins are only now aware of that connection.

The vision of mom and my aunt as good friends is a pleasant way to think of them. It reminds me of the spirit in mom  when she was at her best.

Fred and Jay, my cousins, tell stories of their mother with the respect, a little awe, and a lot of love. I treasure the image they offered of her turning in the hall and waving good bye for the last time to her grand children, just days before she moved to her sleeping space and her death.

How do you define old? How you feel? How you see people? How is life at a given moment? Ninety-three is certainly considered old.  In a way Aunt Charlotte always felt old to me, after all she was 30 years my senior. The other side of it was when I got to those ages I understood them differently. Still my perception was of her with energy, smiles, love and a zest for life.

My gerontologist friend, David, and I had a brief debate about use of the word “old”. On the one hand I suggested that word not be used, at least not as an excuse to not do something. I say do not focus on age but rather pay attention  to what your body and your mind tells you; if it says do not throw a ball because of risk of injury — don’t throw a ball. But do not say “I am too old to throw a ball.” Attend to the awareness, here and now of your body and mind. Don’t say aloud or silently: I am too old to play ping pong, or too old to dance.

David counters to honor the word “old”. It is part of our natural progression. He challenges me to use it in a healthy way contrary to society’s underlying push to first become an adult as soon as possible and then remain one forever. He adds the word “old” in this society has become an undesired state of being, a word we avoid as in “don’t become old.” If you wonder how society does this, check much of TV programming and advertising. David wondered aloud “at what age do we become old” and wears that tag for himself with honor and   humor. He challenges the notion “you are only as old as you feel” while I think there is much wisdom in the idea. I have met people that at 40 seem “old” and others at 75 that do not. Either way, it begs for the definition of what “old” is for each of us and similarly how can we honor, not avoid the term.

So lessons from my ancestors are to do and do daily. Maintain as often as you can that twinkle in the eye which comes from appreciation of challenging life with the best every day. Much of the twinkle is from doing both the work and the fun of life.  Be with your family, play, dance, work and recognize the interconnection.

It is nice to be here.

Bill

Improving Your Marriage with Repair

“Your future together can be bright even if your disagreements tend to be very negative. The secret is learning the right kind of damage control.” John Gottman

Disagreements: What happens as you and your partner disagree? Can you get back to normal pretty quickly? Or is there stonewalling and combativeness?

John Gottman, preeminent marriage therapist and author of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, writes of the REPAIR concept noting that repairs save marriages and the inability to make repairs is a major contributor to failed ones.

REPAIR: An effort to get beyond the disagreement. According to Gottman, spouses will never agree on everything and most arguments can’t be resolved. The question becomes how can we agree to disagree and get past the fight?

Gottman’s definition of repair is “any statement or action—silly or otherwise—that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” In that way, the disagreement does not go on for days, bringing it up again and again or stonewalling. The effective couple moves on to what is next and does so rather seamlessly.

Repair is not an apology. It’s getting back to normal. If Bob and Alice have an argument about vacation or how money is to be spent, the argument stops; the repair is effort to get back to normal. It might be a touch, a kiss on the cheek, a silly comment.   It can be a number of affirmative, nice or even neutral gestures.

Additional techniques may include taking breaks, self soothing or saying you are wrong.  Gottman suggests trying to listen even when disagreeing.  Appreciation of your partner is also necessary.

What’s Success?  Couples get back to normal more rapidly than failing couples. No apology necessary; instead there is respect for each other that includes agreeing to disagree.

Remember this is work on your marriage path — you are repairing cracks before potholes are the problem. If you find spats go on and on look for repair avenues, rapidly get back to normal even if there is no agreement.

Bill