Tag Archives: Martin Luther King Jr.

Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

It’s fitting that I close Black History Month by reading Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. It’s a quick read: one-page biographies (and fun illustrations) of 40 black women throughout history.

I quasi-intentionally read a fair number of black writers this month, including Luvvie Ajayi’s I’m Judging You, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: The Night Masquerade, Marley Dias Gets It Done, Ronald L. Smith’s middle grade Black Panther, They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery, and Stride Toward Freedom by Martin Luther King Jr.

All were good, and while King and Lowery were perhaps the best examples of black history I read this month, Harrison’s Little Leaders really gives that broad taste of history that leaves you wanting more. Continue reading Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Nekima Levy-Pounds on Racial Justice in Minnesota

I went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Luther Seminary today to hear Nekima Levy-Pounds speak. She preached.

Powerful words like hers are so needed today and every day.

  • We are part of the solution or we are part of the problem. Our silence makes us culpable.
  • We’re living off the legacy of Hubert Humphrey, but we haven’t done the work.
  • Instead of compassion we’re taught to look the other way and focus on self preservation.
  • We’re told to trust the law, to rely on the system. But the law gave us slavery. The system gave us Jim Crow. It gives us mass incarceration today.
  • Public policy changes incrementally or not at all. Sometimes you need direct action to disrupt and get attention.
  • People are not going to be Minnesota nice when their brother is killed.
  • We need to personalize these injustices.

So many thoughts.

I think our problem today, especially here in Minnesota, is that we fall back on a lot of excuses instead of engaging in the hard work of racial justice.

We talk about the importance of supporting our police officers instead of acknowledging the disparities in our criminal justice system.

We complain about the disruption of protests and plea for tactics that will bring people together, when those disruptive protests are the only effective way to bring attention to the issues. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” was a response to white pastors urging King to find less disruptive tactics.

The reality is that there is very real and justifiable rage in our communities of color. If you don’t know that or understand why that rage is happening, you need to listen and start understanding instead of constantly dismissing.

Many of these protests that some people bemoan and dismiss are the only reason Minneapolis isn’t burning to the ground. These protests are offering productive ways to channel that rage. The 4th Precinct Shutdown protest in Minneapolis after the police shooting of Jamar Clark is a perfect example.

This work of racial justice is hard. It’s not going to be a simple conversation on social media or a blog post. It’s going to take personal investment instead of self preservation and defense.

My favorite story that Nekima Levy-Pounds shared is from the 4th Precinct protest when they were going to shutdown I-94. She was talking about it with her 10-year-old son.

“I might be arrested tonight, are you OK with that?” Nekima asked.

Her son responded, “Can I be arrested too?”

Reflections on MLK’s Birthday

This week #BlackLivesMatter protesters were charged with various crimes and restitution for the Christmas protests at the Mall of America. At the same time I’m reading the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. and hoping to actually attend MLK Day events instead of just enjoy another day off. I’m troubled by the continual question of whether or not black lives actually matter—questionable police killings, terror in Paris that trumps massacre in Nigeria, and condemnations for protests that inconvenience people.

I’m frustrated by all of it. So I rant…

In this day and time when we celebrate the work and life of Martin Luther King Jr., why is it that we sanitize the man?

We want to make him a hero of racial harmony, the winner in the battle for freedom and equal rights.

We forget his challenge to the churches of the time, who stood by in silence while King wrote to them from his jail cell on scraps of paper. We forget that King not only wanted racial equality, but progress. Jobs, housing, education—King wanted fairness and equality in all of these areas of life. He was anti-war and even argued for a nationalized healthcare system.

We forget all those unrealized dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. Instead we focus on free at last. We look around and decide that segregation is gone so we must have made it to the mountaintop.

Such a vision of King allows us to declare his work done.

Here in the North we like to congratulate ourselves that we weren’t the center of marches and protests, we didn’t unleash dogs and fire hoses.

Yet here in the North, in Minnesota where we pride ourselves on being nice, it’s really just a facade. While our education system is the pride of the nation, it fails Minnesotans of color. Our achievement gap is among the worst in the nation. Blacks make up only 5% of Minnesota, yet they fill 37% of our prisons—the black to white disparity in our prisons is among the worst in the nation (Council on Black Minnesotans Disparity Analysis, PDF). Across the country the net worth of blacks is one-thirteenth the net worth of whites.

50 years after free at last why do these basic inequalities still exist?

If we truly believe that all people are equal, if that’s the foundation of our society, the basis of our freedom, the ethos of America itself—then why do such disparities exist?

It is time to open our eyes to the casual, hidden racism in our own hearts. It’s time to stop thinking that we are post-racial and realize the million tiny ways that our society is still segregated, still racist, still separate and still definitely not equal.

Disagree? Then why are black people 20 times more likely to be stopped by police? And it’s not justified, because “whites stopped during traffic searches were found to carry contraband at higher rates than blacks and other minorities, [yet] resulting arrests and prosecution rate were ten times higher for blacks than for whites,” (Disparity Analysis).

There’s Minnesota Nice at work.

We think the black man needs to pull himself up by his bootstraps, but we forget, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, that the black man is actually barefoot.

We bristle at the idea that a black person should get help that we never received. I worked hard to get to where I am today. Yes you did. But so did your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, many of whom benefited by ousting Native Americans, by enjoying the benefits of free slave labor or milking the lives of sharecroppers. None of that is personally your fault or mine (and we bristle at the idea), but we have privilege lifting us up, while the black community has centuries of weight holding them down even today.

This cartoon so simply illustrates the differences:


It’s time we open our eyes to the realities. Today it’s not blatant Jim Crow laws, but hidden biases in our justice system that seek anything but justice. A white teenager caught with drugs made a simple mistake, boys will be boys and they’re given a slap on the wrist. Black teen drug offenders are thugs and gangbangers. They get criminal records.

We villainize  criminals today, forgetting that Jesus Christ was a criminal, falsely accused and executed by the state. While hanging on the cross with thieves and robbers on either side, he turned and forgave the criminal.

When a black man is shot and killed by the police, we pull up every wrong the black man has ever done. We pull up his criminal record, the bad things he said, the questionable photos on social media. The forgiveness that is supposed to be at the very heart of our Christian faith goes out the window as we justify why this man deserved to be killed. He said bad things, once upon a time, so it’s OK for the police to shoot him. He robbed a store, so the death penalty is OK. Innocent until shot by police and proven guilty by a jury of sensational media. But he broke the law, so he had it coming.

It doesn’t matter if that black man was 12 years old.

It doesn’t matter if that black man was innocent.

Forgiveness does not apply because that black man was a bad man.

Not only was Jesus Christ a criminal, but so was Martin Luther King Jr. He sat in jail more than 30 times. The FBI had him under surveillance. They were more worried about this black man protesting and marching across the south than they were the KKK who were bombing and murdering across the south.

This is where we are today. We have sanitized—dare I say whitewashed—the civil rights movement to make it safe and comfortable and convince ourselves that we arrived at the mountaintop a long time ago. That way we don’t have to look around at the injustices piling up at our feet. We can ignore them and keep on walking.

We can decry the protesters who block freeways and clog shopping malls, dismissing them and labeling them as law breakers and criminals, ignoring that these same tactics were used 50 years ago in the civil rights movement. We herald these actions in history but condemn them in the present.


We do not have equality today. We do not have justice today. We have not made it to the mountaintop.

There is still work to be done.

As we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. and the many other civil rights pioneers, let us not give in to the thinking that the work is done. Let’s find today’s civil rights pioneers, today’s strugglers and join with them.

What Now?

If, like me, you’re wondering what to do and want to be involved and know how you can help, then join me in listening.

Let’s read the powerful words of Martin Luther King Jr. His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a good place to start.

But let’s not stop with powerful words written more than 50 years ago (as amazing as they are). Let’s listen to today’s leaders like Nekima Levy-Pounds, a local civil rights lawyer and law professor at St. Thomas. She’s one of 10 charged with organizing the #BlackLivesMatter protests at the Mall of America and charged with $25,000 in lost income and police overtime, in addition to other fines.

Let’s read books like The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Let’s attend MLK Day events and celebrate more than a sanitized legacy.

Let’s begin to understand how the promise of American has been limited to a select few, and that struggle and protest are the only way that promise has been opened to all. Keeping that promise is never easy or automatic. For justice to roll down, the people must rise up. Let’s do the work to ensure that all people truly are created equal and have the same advantages and opportunities.

Let’s make America the land of freedom and equality we claim it is.

The Radical Words of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.Last week I talked a bit about Martin Luther King Jr. being a radical. Today it seems appropriate to look at some of his radical words.

On love vs. hate:

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

On nonviolence:

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” (Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1964)

Continue reading The Radical Words of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. the Radical

Martin Luther King Jr.I’ve been reading The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House lately (can you guess why?) and have been fascinated by the perspective of history. Specifically Martin Luther King Jr.

Admittedly, my understanding of current history (say, the last 60 years) is weak at best. I blame my education when the textbooks crammed anything after World War II into a miniature chapter at the end of the book that we never covered. Of course that was a long time ago and any further lack of education is my own fault. I know the basics of the 1960s and 1970s, but I’m usually lacking context and an understanding of how events relate.

Martin Luther King Jr. is a prime example. I never realized what a radical he was.

Continue reading Martin Luther King Jr. the Radical


Yesterday President George W. Bush laid a wreath at the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on what would have been his 75th birthday while protesters chanted in the distance.

Many protesters accused Bush of staging a photo opportunity, citing King’s non-violent stance. The image of a president leading a divided country into a questionable war standing at the grave of a man who gave his life for peace seems a bit disjointed.

In a twist of history, city buses were used to block any view between the protesters and the president.

A War Broke Out Today

So war broke out. It took me an extra half-hour to get home on the bus today, thanks to the protesters in downtown Minneapolis. Hurrah to your anti-war efforts, you inconvenienced a few thousand poor schmucks. I hope that helps your cause. You could certainly use some help. Someone ought to explain to the poor fools in San Francisco that when you’re arguing for peace, violence is not a very persuasive tool.

Extreme nutcases aside, I’m having trouble understanding the anti-war movement. Now I’m not a pro-military guy. You’ve probably noticed the big feature on the book Iraq Under Siege on the ReALMagazine.com homepage. I wrote that. It’s a bit out of date now, but it’s still interesting. I read the book with some skepticism, but came out with a lot of questions about U.S. policy. Granted Saddam is not a great guy, but we’re no Ghandi.

I have my reservations with war. My selective service card is tucked away somewhere, and if that number was ever called up, I don’t know what I’d do. I would have trouble shooting at my fellow man. My grandpa fought at Iwo Jima, and I respect his sacrifice, but I still approach war with fear, hesitation, and questions, much to the irritation of my own dad.

But despite my aversion to war, I’m just as put off by the anti-war demonstrators. Their complete lack of logic, balance, and inability to present a decent argument are astounding. I can see a legitimate anti-war platform, but I’ve yet to see a protester argue that platform.

They spout off rhetoric about Bush trying to rule the world, trying to run a race war in the Middle East, trying to claim all the oil in Iraq. What a load of crap. The only argument there that has any validity is that the war has to do with oil. It’s fairly legit to think that oil is a motivation. But if Bush was really oil hungry, would he really be promising to use the oil for the Iraqis, to let them have what’s theirs. If it was really about oil, we’d be seizing the oil fields, selling the oil, and paying for our war. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening. If anything, oil is a way to pay for rebuilding the damage a war has caused and a way to get a liberated people back on their feet, a motivation that doesn’t exactly exist in a place like Sudan.

Many people are arguing that we shouldn’t be fighting this war because we don’t have international consensus. That’s a decent argument–though I don’t see any protesters chanting about that. The problem with international consensus is that it’s rare. This conflict has dragged on for a long time, and at some point you have to draw the line.

War is not a pretty thing, but it’s inevitable. That doesn’t mean we have to like it or even pursue it, but it does mean that it’s going to happen. We can do everything we can to avoid it, but it will happen. Especially if you value freedom, war is necessary. So many people find it ironic that war is what enables the protesters to protest war. Without the American Revolution, we wouldn’t have the first amendment that gives us the right to petition our government. Without World War II, we might be under Nazi rule. And I don’t think fascism looks too kindly on a ‘puke-in.’

There’s a lot of tough questions the anti-war movement needs to address, and I see very few addressing it. What about Hitler? They tried diplomacy with Hitler and he invaded Poland. What about the terrible things Saddam has done? Do we just ignore those? True, we ignore other terrible things around the world and we end up enforcing justice inconsistently. I agree. But is it better to stop the one massacre you can than to let it happen? True, we often make big mistakes, like selling someone like Saddam chemical weapons. I think we should fess up to them and try to make smarter decisions in the future. U.S foreign policy is fraught with some big blunders. I’m the first to point those out. They make me nervous. But sometimes those blunders were an attempt to keep something worse from happening. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Meddling in El Salvador didn’t come off too well. But taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan seems like a no-brainer.

Sometimes I just wish America would be the world’s police and do it right. Stop the bloodshed in Rwanda and Sudan. End the guerrilla fighting and drug wars in Columbia. But it’s not that simple. I wish it was.

True Christian pacifism is an interesting idea. Jesus talked about peace, and so some Christians think that’s the way to go. The Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr. approach that turns the other cheek. You love your enemies, and that doesn’t happen with smart bombs. It’s a great personal philosophy, but I get squeamish when you have to think about nations. I can decide to be non-violent, and take a punch in the gut when it happens. But when it comes to a nation, if you don’t defend yourself, innocent people die. If a nation turns the other cheek, trades flowers for bullets, eats pastries for peace, you have no more freedom. You become a country in occupation. Maybe that’s okay for some people. It works for Switzerland. But I have a feeling most of us freedom-loving Americans would be shot by the invading army pretty quickly. We’d want to speak out, to say what we want, do what we want, and they’d kill you. That’s what turning the other cheek gets you. Loving your enemies is not compatible with freedom. You have to fight for freedom in this world. We can have freedom in Christ, but it’s more of a personal commodity that bears fruit on the other side.

So I’m not liking the anti-war protesters. I sympathize with them, but I wish they’d make some decent arguments. I wish they’d address the real issues. This world is a complicated place, and it doesn’t work to just say can’t we all get along. Because some jerk comes along who doesn’t want to get along, and pretty soon people are dead. You can either stand up and make sure that innocent people don’t die, or you can hold up your hands and be willing to die along with them. On a personal level, one sounds a lot like Jesus. But nations are different, and I’ve never seen that kind of a Christian nation.

It would be interesting to see America the Christian nation, as in the country that makes every effort to be Christ-like, even in the way we wage war (can there be a Christian way to wage war?). But maybe that’s what we’re doing. A “smart bomb” that lands on target more often than a conventional bomb and hopefully destroys the military target more often that it destroys a civilian target seems like a humane advancement. Moving in with humanitarian supplies seems like a Christ-like move.

Maybe it would help if our government made better choices across the board. If we got tough with countries like China that don’t offer freedom of religion. If we stuck up for the fatherless, the widow, and the orphan all across the globe. The prophet cried out for justice to flow down like a mighty water, and maybe that can’t happen until God steps down onto this earth, but aren’t we called to bring justice now, in whatever way we can? We’re certainly not God’s henchmen, and we shouldn’t claim to be, but some things are pretty clear cut. Mowing down your own people is not justice, and that’s a worthy fight.

Oh, the rambling. Sometimes I find myself easily swayed by arguments. Last week I was angry when someone was so incredibly Republican that they refused to see the duplicity in American foreign policy. I don’t like war hawks. But this week I’m angry at the protesters who don’t see the necessity of war in a modern world. There’s a shaky middle ground somewhere, and that’s where I find myself. Raising a flag for peace is a lovely gesture, but it’s also an idealistic one.

What Do I Want To Do?

Since it’s very likely that I’ll be moving across the country in a few years to follow my job, it’s really made me think about what I want to do in life. And I’m not just talking about the big picture, I want to write a book and have a few kids kind of thing. I’m talking about my job type stuff. Where I’m working, what I’m doing, how it’s going kind of thing.

Basically, is this really the job I want to have forever? We always have this image of constant advancement. It’s as if I’m always supposed to be moving up in the world. I can’t be an Assistant Editor forever. Some day I have to be just the Editor. Then the Managing Editor. Then the Supreme Editor of all. Or something like that.

But I’m beginning to question that. Do I really want to be the managing editor? At this point in my life, the answer is no. I like my job. I like that I don’t have to be the final answer. I like that someone else has to deal with the really sticky questions. I like that I can go home at the end of the day and let things go. Maybe in a few years I’m yearn for more responsibility, but right now, I don’t want to advance.

That seems so anti-establishment. Can you really want to just stay where you’re at? Financially it doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially being an editor. I guess maybe I’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Maybe in several years I’ll have changed and want something more. But for now I’m not really worried about the financial matters and moving forward to advance my career.

I’m reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Each of us lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live. These include the house we live in, the car we drive, the clothes we wear, the economic sources we acquire—the material stuff we must have to exist. There is always a danger that we will permit the means by which we live to replace the ends for which we live, the internal to become lost in the external.” (Strength to Love, page 70)

Will the Dream Ever Come True?

Slavery ended over 100 years ago. The Civil Rights movement was 35 years ago. Yet racism is still a part of us. Apparently when they fought for Civil Rights they only meant for us to treat one another civil. Beating the crap out of one another wasn’t looked too highly upon anymore.

But I wonder when the day will come when we can actually live together. When we can do more than tolerate one another. And a lot of people have a problem doing that today. Stereotyping seems to be the only way we can deal with one another. When a white person sees a black person they get scarred. When a black person sees a white person they call racism. And that’s my stereotype of the issue.

It’s such a stupid issue that you can’t even talk about it. What words am I supposed to use? White? Caucasian? Black? African American? It doesn’t help that some words are acceptable for some people, but not for others.

It’s like there’s no way to win. Sometimes I wonder if Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream ever has a chance of coming true on this earth, or if he was looking beyond this sinful planet.

Billy Graham, Loans & Mr. Rogers

Just a word of warning: It’s random day today.

Have you ever been to a Billy Graham Crusade? Neither have I. But now, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can watch an exclusive Billy Graham Webcast. That’s right, for the rest of the month of July, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is offering footage from the recent Louisville Crusade for the online public. Do I sound like a used car salesman yet? I kind of feel like that’s the only way to hype something my employer is doing.

But seriously, if you’d like to check out a Billy Graham Crusade, you can watch one online. It’s kind of a mesmerizing event. I’ve heard so much about this Billy Graham guy, and now you can actually see what he does. And realize how old he is. As added incentive, I’ll throw in a free air-freshener. Okay, I really won’t. But can see performances from a pretty impressive list of bands, including dc Talk, Kirk Franklin, Third Day, Michael W. Smith, Jennifer Knapp, and more. So take advantage of this opportunity, they’re going fast.

On another note, I’m beginning to realize the magnitude of debt that college has brought upon my head. Thankfully my wife and I are both gainfully employed somewhere along the poverty line. You know you’re rolling in it when one of you is a teacher and the other works for a nonprofit. Please laugh along with me, I find that laughter releases endorphines which trick your mind into thinking you’re not dreadfully poor. And if you’d like to contribute to the Kevin & Abby Are Po’, Pee-oh, Po’ Fund, please make all checks payable to cash and stick them under the door.

(Note to Mothers and assorted people who think they are mothers: Abby and I are not really dreadfully poor. We’re just making light of our loan situation so it isn’t so depressing. If we actually find checks made out to cash stuck under the door, we’ll have to discreetly cash them and pretend we don’t know what you’re talking about. Which could be very embarrassing for everyone involved.)

Ah. That’s better. Don’t we all feel much better about the “L” word?

On another completely different topic, I’m beginning to realize that there are some Christians in this world who really impress me. Mr. Rogers is one of them. He was on Nightline tonight and we caught the tale end of the report. The guy shows the love of Jesus to this world in such an amazingly effective way.

There’s very few Christians like him in the world, and whenever I come across one I just want to stand there and scratch my head. It may be borderline hero-worship, but I try to keep some levity to it. Bono would be another one of those Christians. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be another. They seem to me to be people who really understood Jesus, and acted upon it, in a way I never seem to be able to. They have both my awe and respect. They made and are making an impact on society in a way the church doesn’t seem capable of doing. I think every once in a while you need people like these to remind the world of greater things.