Martin Luther King Jr. – April 4, 1968 – 50 Years Ago

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I am the seminary president of an institution that is located in a denomination, city, state, and country that struggles with race relations and racial reconciliation. I help train church leaders who will serve for generations and, hopefully, will do better in this area than most who went before them. I have also been challenged and stretched by my own geographic and spiritual journey.

I grew up in a small farming community in Illinois which did not have much diversity (in elementary, middle, and high school all my classmates were white). When I attended college, my two freshmen suitemates were the first African Americans I had consistent contact with. There was a shadow of sadness for me when my parents shared with me that friends from back home were “worried” that I had African American suitemates.

Following college, I attended and then graduated from the University of Florida Law School. This was a school in a state that was one that did not follow “all deliberate speed” in desegregation following the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka. As an ongoing student of the law, I have kept up by studying the topic of desegregation and the ongoing effects and injustices of racial discrimination.

Finally, I served as founding pastor of a new church plant in the southwest side of Chicagoland. I was privileged to see our church welcome and enfold people from a variety of backgrounds in the sixteen years that I was a pastor there. I still remember the pointed question to me from an African American man who had moved from the South to work in the Chicagoland auto industry, “If I come to your church, will I be accepted?” 

This month marks the birthday anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. and this year marks the 50th year commemoration of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. by an assassin’s bullet.

At Calvin Seminary, we will be hosting various conversations and presentations with the hope of not only remembering the ministry of Rev. Dr. King, but also taking up the challenge of confronting racial injustice as well as developing redemptive relationships as individuals and in our society.

As part of my personal journey, I recently visited the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. If you have the opportunity to visit this museum, I highly recommend that you do so.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” What are you doing to help move your heart from “here” to “there” in your own journey of responding to the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.? 

Here are some recommended resources for such a journey. 

Recent Films:

  • “Detroit” and “Selma” as well as “12 Years A Slave” (some scenes are graphic).

Recommended Books:

  • "Arc of Justice" by Kevin Boyle
  • "April 4, 1968" by Michael Eric Dyson
  • "Blood Done Sign My Name" by Timothy B. Tyson
  • "Devil In the Grove" by Gilbert King
  • "Growing Pains: How Racial Struggles Changed a Church and School" by Chris Meehan
  • "Just Mercy:  A Story of Justice and Redemption" by Bryan Stevenson
  • "Same Kind of Different as Me" by Ron Hall & Denver Moore
  • "Some of My Best Friends Are Black" by Tanner Colby
  • "The Blood of Emmett Till" by Timothy B. Tyson
  • "The Children" by David Halberstam
  • "The Color of Law" by Richard Rothstein
  • "The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother" by James McBride
  • "The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation" by Drew Hansen
  • "The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson
  • "To the Mountaintop: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Sacred Mission to Save America 1955-1968" by Stewart Burns
  • "What Would Martin Say?" by Clarence Jones and Joel Engel
  • "Who Lynched Willie Earle? Preaching to Confront Racism" by Will Willimon
  • "Why Are All the Black Kids Still Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and other Conversations on Race" by Beverly Daniel Tatum (Calvin College January Series Presentation – January 15, 2018)
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