By Natasha Nedrick
Growing up Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was always a mythic figure to me. His speeches were too prolific. His sermons were too prophetic. His commitment to non-violence was too optimistic. I always admired Dr. King, but I was confident if the tables were turned, I couldn’t have done it.
I remember watching documentaries as a child showing peaceful families protesting for voting rights or economic equality, and my gut would always sink. It was like watching a horror movie. You just knew something bad was about to happen. Sooner than later an angry mob, attack dogs and water hoses would appear, yet protesters somehow maintained a non-violent response to the best of their ability.
While I appreciated Dr. King’s commitment to the cause, I always wondered how anyone could witness the realities of the day and still have so much hope.
I would talk to my grandmother about these things. She grew up in the South in Cairo, Georgia. She rarely liked to talk about her childhood, but I remember pressing her one day while she was cooking.
She told me, “When we walked to school, we walked in the ditch.”
I gave her a puzzled look. “We had to walk in the ditch because the white people would always try to run us off the side of the road. Eventually, my dad was able to buy a truck. He covered the back of the truck and picked up all the kids, so we could make it safely to school. He was the first bus driver for colored kids in Cairo.”
I was stunned. My grandmother was always upbeat and seemed solidly middle class. I just assumed stuff like this didn’t happen to her.
After telling me several other stories including how the Klan forced her brother to leave the city in fear of his life she concluded by saying, “I have every right to hate white people, but I don’t.” At that moment, she glanced at Dr. King’s autobiography, which always stayed on display in her living room, and kept cooking.
There is something that captivates all of us about Dr. King.
I remember showing the students in my classroom the movie, “My Friend Martin.” Most of the students seemed interested, but Caden’s eyes were glued to the screen. Caden was only in first grade, but he was completely mesmerized. You could see it in his eyes. After the movie finished, Caden began to ask questions about Dr. King’s childhood, racism and the civil rights movement. As we walked down the hallway, the conversation switched from what Dr. King did to what Caden could do. He had it set in his mind, if his friend Martin could make a difference, so could he.
I hold those memories close. As I reflect on this national holiday, I am aware people across the country often focus on the macro picture, the magnitude of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, today I am grateful for the individual impartation of hope Dr. King continues to give to me, and the generations before and after me.
In today’s political climate, where hate speech is far more common than I used to be accustomed too, I often yearn for the youthful determination I saw in Caden’s eyes. Then I recall my grandmother’s stories, her perseverance, and remember the words of Dr. King, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Natasha Nedrick serves as the CBF Global Missions Executive Assistant and Project Specialist.