“Do you not know that a leader and a great man has fallen in Israel this day?” (2 Samuel 3:38)
I was seven years old when the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. I’ll never forget the non-stop announcements on the radio in our home. As a little boy in Whittier, California, I didn’t know who Dr King was. But I knew something serious had happened, that a great man had fallen.
For much of the next 50+ years, I still didn’t know who this man was. Nor did I understand what he died for or what kind of people would kill a man who fought for liberty and justice for all.
Then, in 2020, another black man, one of far too many, was murdered.
Seasons of Change
I didn’t know who George Floyd was at that time either, but something significant had happened once again. His death was part of a Kairos moment for me, a divine appointment. It coordinated with the departure from my church, the death of my mom, a worldwide pandemic, and divisions in our country more sickening than the virus. These events ushered in a season of isolation like I hadn’t known since I was a teen. Not since then had I felt so sad, depressed, and cut off. Fortunately, just as in my teen years, solitude was just what the doctor ordered. At fourteen, it led me to Christ; at fifty-eight, it led to my calling.
I recently had a heart-to-heart with an old friend. “I’ve changed,” I told him. “And it’s only fair that I let you know.”
That was the beginning of more conversations to come, conversations about my identity as a man of color. I remember a friend saying, “I don’t even think of you as a person of color.” That’s a problem. That’s on me. For too long I’ve been comfortable blending in and downplaying the fact that I’m the son of an immigrant. I love that heritage. I empathize with recent arrivals. I profoundly care about black, brown, and other people of color surviving and thriving. That’s a change.
There isn’t time here to unpack everything in my MLK story, but a couple of movies I saw over the holidays may help.
A Serious Movie Metaphor
One Night in Miami is about an event that never happened. It’s the fictionalized account of a party in a Miami hotel room attended by only four people — Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. In the story, these four famous black men of the 1960s gather to celebrate Ali’s victory over Sonny Liston… and a fight breaks out. It’s not a fight with fists but with words, a fight for the cause of racial justice in America. It’s a captivating story and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should.
I’ve often said, “I’m a lover, not a fighter,” but that’s not true anymore. Now I’m both. I fight for the hearts and souls, the health and well-being of people who serve people. They often get lost in the needs of others. They deal with difficult challenges and difficult people. As they prepare for another round in their fight, I want them to know that they have a coach in their corner. I love ‘em and I fight for ‘em.
A Holiday Movie Metaphor
More true to form, I also watched The Grinch this Christmas season. Who doesn’t love the story of the lovable rogue, despised and rejected by everyone in Whoville…except a little girl with eyes to see? As you recall, in a pivotal moment, the Grinch’s small heart grows three sizes in one day. He sees the light and all the mockers of Cindy Lou Who do too.
During the pandemic, my heart has grown three sizes too. It beats loud and steady for black and brown people, for women in leadership, and for urban Christian leaders of every make and model. It’s a joy to serve the people who serve the people.
“Thank you, Dr King, for answering the call, though it cost you your life. You couldn’t know the impact you would have on a seven-year-old in Southern California and on so many millions more. I hope my life somehow honors yours.”
How about you?
- What is Dr King’s legacy in your story?
- How have you changed in the past year or two?
- What is your calling? Why do you wake up every morning?
- Seen any good movies lately?
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