An Inspiration

Dr. King and Bayard Rustin
Dr. King and Bayard Rustin
Rustin the musician
Rustin the musician

     Yesterday, I saw a film, “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin.”

     He is one of my heroes. I had read a lot about him, and by him, but until yesterday I had not seen much of him.

     A leader in many justice causes, a believer in, and practitioner of, nonviolent protest as the surest means to create social change–he taught Dr. King much of what Dr. King then taught the rest of us–Rustin was also a Black gay man. He had style, he sang beautifully, he spoke with precision.

     I am grateful that GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) Richmond showed the film at the Gay Community Center of Richmnd. I hope that over time more and more of young queer people, and older folks like me, can see this film.

     Rustin was an idealist. He was not afraid to pay, and pay dearly, to follow his conscience. For example, as a pacifist, he refused to fight in World War II. He was imprisoned for that. And in the late 1940s he did what Rosa Parks did in 1955 and served time on a chain gang for it.

     But also he was a realist. He wanted to change things. He knew that big change is rare, but small changes can add up.

     If you want to change things, strategic thinking is required at every moment–as is passion for justice, and commitment to defeat injustice.

     Today, I remember Dr. King, and I remember Bayard Rustin. Together, they changed things.

     We can do the same. Together.

Dr. King, at 80

2008-0376     Today, Martin Luther King, Jr. would be 80.

     He was 39 at the time of his assassination. He has been gone longer than he was alive.

     Still, the legacy lives on. Even after Coretta has died, too.

     We cannot forget. Even as we inaugurate Barack Obama. In fact, that glorious moment is one more down payment on the debt we owe, not only to him but also to each other.

     Dr. King led us out of our national racist wilderness, although we are not entirely in the Promised Land of full racial justice and reconciliation. Not yet. His example is to continue the journey, no matter how tired we become.

     And there is more, too. Reading old speeches and sermons, and his books, reminds us that he had a vision so much larger than the end of Jim Crow, essential though that was, and is.

     He had a dream alright. It was for the Beloved Community–a nation, and a world, without hunger, without violence and war, without poverty, without injustice of any kind.

     Dr. King did not aspire to lead a movement, or a nation. But when God put the task before him, he did not shirk. He did not hide.

      God has something for you, for me, for us, to do. Accept the challenge, don’t make excuses, claim the purpose and power God has for you.

      Do something today that changes you, so that you become a stronger voice, a more active presence in the struggle– the struggle for peace, for feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, ending racist, sexist, homophobic oppression.

     Remember Dr. King–not just in sweet images in commercials, but in the street, in the homes, in the neighborhoods, where people live, where people need food, and shelter, and clothing, and peace.

     And love.