As far as scandals go, Bright Johnson, 8th grader at Stacey Abrams Middle School, accomplished the greatest scandal anyone in the school could have ever imagined. This was her final year in the MESA program. MESA is where all of the smart kids and those kids whose parents dream of having smart kids come together to create scientific fetes such as prosthetic arms made from kitchen tongs and duct tape. She wanted to end her middle school career on a high note so coming in first place was a must. Her toughest competition was Audra St. Blume who lived a few houses down from Bright. They used to play together when they were in elementary school but middle school changed her. During their final friendly play date Audra said to Bright, “New school, new clothes, new me, new friends. Bye!” So Bright concocted a scheme to bring her down. It came to be known for years to come as the great sugar scandal of Stacey Abrams Middle School.
All of his life’s efforts came to this one moment. All of the hours alone with the light of his laptop transitioning to the light of the sun and back again. All of the sacrifices. A marriage that never stood a real chance, even though he found time, at least twice, to spend 15 minutes physically connecting. This was evident in the two children the coupling produced. Aside from DNA, there was no real connection to the children. Yet this is what his mind decided to ruminate on. How are David and Cassandra doing? The unexpected longing in his heart, an unfamiliar sensation, made him unseasonably salty considering the fact that he just hung up the phone on his agent and the news that he was now a Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry.
“When is mama coming home Gil?” Danny asked.
Gil examined the rock he had just spotted poking out from under the log they were sitting on. “I don’t know D. Daddy said it could be a long time.”
“Do you think she’s gonna die?” Danny asked in a whisper.
“Do you think I got a crystal ball or somethin’?” Gil barked before lobbing the smooth rock with just the right wrist action, causing it to skip across the surface five times before it sank.
Ricocheting rocks is one way Gil found that steadied his mind and soothed the ache he felt in his belly when he worried about something.
“Help me find some more rocks.” Gil ordered.
Commit yourself to an unsubstantiated notion, a conspiracy theory, as it were. Allow it to grab hold of your heart in such a way that whenever your brain receives information that attacks the logic of the notion and begins to ruminate on it, you feel the cold hand of death grip your heart as if it were a hapless stress ball. Your fight or flight instincts begin to kick in. You desperately reach for your laptop, the door to your tribe, and navigate through the halls until you reach the social media room in the darkest corner of the web. You enter, and it’s as if the occupants have been awaiting your arrival. Your fingers relay the rhetoric of which, surprisingly or not, the occupants are all too familiar. Surprisingly or not, they are armed with the medicinal response that instantly dispels the grip. You can breath now. You can, certifiably now, go out into the world and be sensational again.
While government sanctioned discrimination in the form of Jim Crow laws were successfully dismantled by the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. understood that legislation alone could not change the root cause of such laws, the hearts of men. In his sermon, The Goodness of the Good Samaritan, he wrote, “It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”
The result of that restraint is a racial limbo that leads to the racial unrest that came to a head in 2020 as a result of the murder of George Floyd, the murder of Ahmad Arbery, and the murder of Breonna Taylor.
As we reflect on MLK Day, consider how hearts can be changed. Many hearts were changed as the world watched the light of life go out of George Floyd while an officer of the law applied the weight of his entire body on his neck. Many allies were gained as we watched Covid 19 ravage communities of color due to what was clear to Dr. King in 1966 when he addressed a group of medical professionals and said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.”
It shouldn’t take a loss of life for us all to examine our hearts to see what we could do better in order for America to live up to its promise to all of its citizens. Whether you care about the lives that have been lost or the businesses that have been impacted, we all have a stake in resolving the inequities that exist in our society. Dr. King did his part, he lost his life doing his part. On this MLK Day let’s make a pledge to do our part. Let’s examine our hearts and make individual changes that promote unity and diversity so that we all have a chance to live the promise of America.
MLK Quotes to inspire you to examine your heart.
“One day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid… You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. Well, you may go on to live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90.” ~1967 Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” ~1963 “Strength of Love” a book of sermons
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” ~1967 Sermon: Three Dimensions of a Complete Life
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” ~1957 Speech: Conquering Self-Centeredness
Silence holds the family in pieces.
It’s the brutality of blessings
that splinters all to avenues of frost
and the unseemly snowy wood.
When hush is broken by some tired soul,
we melt and pour ourselves into convenient sewers.
Thirsty for the ocean and thirsting for a new beginning.
I have a lot of poems that I love but this one poem is my life. I think it’s many people’s lives. Living is not always an easy thing to do, but if you hold on to the truth that you are, indeed, the master of your fate and the captain of your soul, you can weather all things.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Right now, I’m thinking of my last refreshing interaction with a stranger. With the toxic atmosphere that is in abundance today along with having to wear pesky but life-saving masks, it’s difficult. A body needs that type of interaction where you leave feeling like you’ve just departed a warm embrace. Those are the small moments of eye contact with a stranger on the street, punctuated with a gentle smile. Those are the spontaneous moments that trigger a quick exchange that leads to a laugh that leads to a lingering smile you carry all the way back to your car.
In thinking about it, I realize that it wasn’t very long ago that I had one of those experiences. I had made what was supposed to be a quick trip to the grocery store. As I stood in line, my husband FaceTimed me to say that we needed snacks because “We don’t have any snacks. Get some Cheez-Its and some beef jerky.” he joked. We never buy beef jerky but the man behind me, who must have been a beef jerky fan, said through his mask “I’m with him!” I turned to him and laughed while exaggerating the squint of my eyes to overemphasize my amusement behind the mask. I told him not to worry about holding my spot when he kindly offered as I left the line in search of snacks. That was actually only two days ago. It was the day I voted.
That morning, my husband and I got out our voting guides, our mail-in ballots, and our laptops and spent several hours going over the local candidates and the propositions. It was very important for me that we really read and understood as much about the propositions as we possibly could outside of the ads that collectively intrude on the latest news of yet another tweet from President Trump.
Going over the propositions isn’t an easy task. I began by mentally settling myself on my foundational principle: That which is going to be best for those with the least–and worked my way from there through the purposely confusing language. My husband and I talked a bit about each one and found that we were usually on the same side when we’d bubble in our choice.
It’s kind of a lovely thing really. It’s a moment to escape the constant assault of the cephalopod that is cable news and social media. Their tentacles latch on to our compulsive nature, the need to be informed, and the desire to connect, so pervasively that turning it off or deleting an app conjures feelings of absurdity and anxiety. Those several hours of sitting, undistracted, with just the text, and giving thought to the implications of impacts raised by those charged with writing the pros and cons, along with a bit of sleuthing to understand, as much as possible, the hidden hands behind all the pieces, was an investment of time that paid off with the feeling of honoring those who fought and died for my right to have my say.
For the past, almost four years, we’ve endured the toxicity, the destructive policies, and divisive behavior of a man who makes us question our own connectedness to our fellow human beings. A man who makes no secret of his self-absorption and bigotry, and has reinvigorated the disease of racism in this country to such a degree that Covid is merely the cherry on top of his noxious administration. An administration that has us eyeing strangers and summing them up along party lines, and labeling strangers as idiots if they aren’t on our side and wonderful compatriots if they are. Of all of the things that President Trump lauds about being the only one to ever do, the most astounding feat of his leadership that nobody has done since the civil war is split the country in half, disrupting the spontaneous connections that make us all know that we are one. While you can easily glean which way I chose to vote in the Presidential race, you can also glean that my choice is not without the deepest consideration for my fellow citizens, especially those with the least.
The one thing I am looking forward to in the next four years is that the U.S. begins to build back better our connectedness to one another and to continue the work of creating a country where everyone is welcomed, everyone is valued, and everyone is safe.
I am not allowed
to split you open
climb inside you to
learn your secrets
I must maddeningly deduce
Negotiate with sensitivities
Navigate around trigger lines
My skin — camouflage
My hair — bush
My eyes — ink
My mouth — contort
I talk to myself out loud
so that my heart knows it’s me — not
some mad woman caught
in the wilderness of a lover’s secrets.