Dear Dr. King,
Today is your birthday, and it’s been 35 years since our nation’s Senate and House of Representatives agreed that we would take the third Monday in January of every year to remember you. I’m writing to you on a cold, sunny winter morning. Soon I will preach and celebrate the Holy Eucharist with a faithful band of people who desire healing and wholeness, as do I.
All of that aside, what I want to say is that in your short life you made a remarkable contribution; you left an indescribable legacy. For those of us born after 1968, our experience of you comes from our ancestors, but that’s precisely the point: you have shaped at least two generations, including my own, in our understanding of racial healing and reconciliation.
My nephew is black, born in Ethiopia. Next week he’ll have his 15th birthday. I think he’s the only person of color in his public high school in New Hampshire. I worry about him, Dr. King. I worry that navigating race in America as an identified racial minority will lead to unpredictable moments—out of nowhere—where he’ll have to encounter racism and disrespect. I was heartened at Christmas to see him and his cousins, some of whom are also not caucasian, speaking about their experiences as young people of color. They were laughing, comparing notes about the stupid things people say to them. Yet I was also disheartened to hear my nephew say within earshot of all the adults, “Yeah, I hate it when people just walk up to me and touch my hair like I’m something they’ve never seen before.”
I serve a church that is predominantly white. When we talked about putting a black lives matter sign in front of the church one man said, “I think we’re behind that issue at Epiphany, thank God, so let’s not use signs to divide us.” President Obama was in office then, the man pointed that out to me and said, “doesn’t get much better than being president.”
Still, I think, despite the work that’s ahead of us, you’d be overwhelmed by the progress we’ve made since you died. Our country is changed because of you, and because of thousands of others, of every race, who have marched forward to continue your dream.
The thing about your teaching and preaching, at least as I’ve read and heard recordings, is that you helped us see racial healing as a moral imperative; you opened our eyes to Holy Scripture, and you showed us the way of love. That means that many of us are working for a United States of America that is not only fair but also morally and ethically just.
So, on this your 90th birthday we reaffirm that racial or religious bigotry has no place in our nation, in our society, or our church.
Happy Birthday, Dr. King. We shall overcome. We shall overcome.
Faithfully in Christ,