Originally posted Jan. 16, 2013, at ELCA Southeastern Synod Blog. Republished with permission of the author.
It has been a long while since that telephone call came into our home. It came on a typical April afternoon in Atlanta: cool in the morning, warm, almost hot during the day, and cool again in the evenings and nights. My sister and I were high school students. An older brother was a sophomore at Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University). Mother and Daddy had been very uneasy during that time, for our brother, the college sophomore had been arrested and jailed during a wave of sit-ins at a lunch counter of an Atlanta department store. Hundreds of students were in jail, and our parents were more than troubled, both for their safety and wellbeing, and concerned about their college studies, since the spring semester was fast coming to a close.
More cars than usual drove by our house, with the drivers stopping to stare, leaving us somewhat un-nerved. The Atlanta Journal and Constitution had published the names and addresses of the students who were arrested. And so the phone call came. We were reluctant to answer the phone because some of the calls were obscene and others called out threats to our lives and to our home. Mother and Daddy were still at work so I answered the phone. The voice on the other end of the phone identified themselves as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. “Dr. King wants to invite you to a meeting for a conversation about your son who was arrested last week. Can you come?” I asked if they would call back to speak with my parents, in about two hours. They did.
Two days later, the four of us piled into our car and traveled to Warren Memorial Methodist Church just across from the Atlanta University center. Children and teenagers were directed to the balcony, while adults were given seats on the main floor. After a while, Dr. King came into the sanctuary. Amid restlessness and proud applause, King addressed the invitees who filled the church beyond its capacity. Concern over college grades and potential losses of tuition were the unspoken thoughts in the community; concern over the future of the arrested students permeated the homes of many.
King assured parents, siblings and friends that those students who were arrested were indeed attending to their futures and the futures of the oppressed. As only he could do, he chided the audience about the conspicuous consumption of Atlanta’s Black middle class, about the absence of community values; he reminded us that “The students cannot all be preachers and teachers, or doctors or lawyers!” “There is big world out there, and they are reaching for their futures, that without freedom, they will not enter.” King, took that audience of parents and children through a brief history of Western thought on self-determination, freedom, self-concept and the duty to resist injustice; and this audience learned from him that evening.
After shaking hands with several members of the audience, including mine, King was hurried out, almost as fast as he entered the church. Our parents were visibly moved by King’s conversation with them. They were impressed that he would take the time to talk with them; they were moved to action themselves, providing food for the students who were in the county jail by then, and moved to demand that the mayor of Atlanta take action to eliminate the conditions that made it necessary for the students to take direct action resulting in their arrest.
That meeting with King occurred a very long time ago. For a teenager of almost 15 years, it started to occur to me that Jesus loved me also, and that “God is in me,” and if God is in me, I carried responsibility for my future as well. That evening taught me that the future lies in our hands. A colleague remarked just yesterday, “Unless a seed dies and is put into the grave, there is no new life, no resurrection.” God is present on the cross; God is present in the grave; God is ever present.
That evening, King reminded our family and other families of the hope that is present for all God’s people; he reminded us that there will be challenges, but these challenges and the people who present them will not overtake you, unless you surrender. The King I met was a teacher and his lessons still live on within us.
Find a link to Everett Flanigan’s entry at ELCA Southeastern Synod Blog at Lutheran Blogs.