A Personal Reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Since I don’t work for the federal government or a financial institution, it’s pretty easy to forget that today the United States celebrates Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday.
During one of my lay-overs last year in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, I noticed a Martin Luther King exhibit. Almost no one stopped and looked at it since they were rushing on to their next plane. That particular day, I had plenty of time so I stopped and read the exhibit. I noticed one of Dr. King’s suits and his Bible along with a brief accounting of his life and death. If you look at my photo, you may wonder what I know about civil rights and why I would take time as a writer to reflect on Dr. King and what it’s meant to my life.
I grew up in an all-white town in eastern Kentucky and spent my first twelve years in such an environment. I was aware of race. My dad was a railroad employee and we often rode the trains to Frankfort, Kentucky to see my grandparents. African Americans worked on the train and other places so I didn’t live in a totally isolated environment—just almost. Then our family moved to a suburb of Baltimore and tensions were high about the issue of integration. Again I attended all white schools but I began to learn about other races. In college, I recall one spring break where I invited an international student from Sudan home with me. We took him to church and while they were polite to him, he stood out as different in my all-white Indiana church. I was keenly aware that this different-looking guy was a leading journalist in his nation and wrote a full-page article (in Arabic) in the capital city newspaper about his life as an American student.
Skip ahead to about fifteen years ago, when I began writing books. An editor gave me the opportunity to write a book about Samuel Morris. From my research I learned a great deal about this African Prince. This opportunity was quickly followed with two books about Sojourner Truth, another remarkable figure in American history.
Then with the explosion of a group called Promise Keepers, Charisma magazine assigned me to interview their chairman, an African American Bishop in the Church of God in Christ, named Bishop Phillip H. Porter, Jr. During the first meeting, Bishop and I hit it off relationally and ultimately I wrote two books for Bishop Porter and one of them is still in print, Let the Walls Fall Down. The book uses Bishop Porter’s personal stories about how he’s been working in the area of racial reconciliation throughout his life. It was my privilege to have spent the time and energy on those books with Bishop Porter. As a writer, I learned more than can be built into this post but it feeds into my own personal involvement in this important issue. I could have lived in isolation and not ventured into this territory yet as a writer, I grew in many ways from the experiences.
Last fall, I had the opportunity to be the writer for another African American, Vonetta Flowers. When Vonetta and her partner Jill Bakken won the Olympic gold medal in the 2002 women’s bobsled, Vonetta became the first African American ever to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. Our book is at the printer and will soon be available called Running On Ice.
The lessons from Martin Luther King’s life for me involve choosing to live in a different way. Race isn’t an issue in my life and doesn’t play a factor in the choices I make in my writing life. I’ve not arrived and have many more lessons to learn in this area. Today I celebrate the opportunity to have served as a writer for some outstanding African Americans. They’ve taught me a great deal from the journey.