Saturday, August 24, 2013

More reflections on MLK's dream

On this weekend observing the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I love to hear Dr. King's speech one more time. He was not only one of America's great heroes, he was certainly one of our finest orators. All of this talk about King's dream has me thinking about how my life has been touched by African Americans.

Things took a big step forward in the 1970s when I met an itinerant black preacher named Cy Young. He was a guest on my radio talk show and his shtick was MLK speeches. He had memorized almost all of them, and his recitation was amazing. He was a big black man with a big deep voice and his delivery was mesmerizing. That was really the first time I had actually listened to the I HAVE A DREAM speech. And it touched me forever. Cy and I became very close friends. We did programs together. I got him involved in ministry with HIS MEN, both in churches and in prisons. Cy died from injuries suffered when he was struck by a car. But his impact on my life was profound.

Before he died, he introduced me to one of his favorite gospel singers. The late Alma Perry also touched my life, as she and I became dear friends. I arranged for singing engagements for her numerous times, especially in my own church, and especially with HIS MEN and in prisons. Those big, burly prisoners would melt when she sang, "In this very room, there's quite enough love for all of us." I wept at her bedside one day in the hospital as cancer was snuffing the life out of that young body. But her impact on my life was profound.

The most dramatic impact on my life, however, was made by an indigent black prisoner from Gary, Indiana Our paths crossed in a providential manner, and I eventually discovered that Maurice Carter had been wrongly convicted. In the next decade we would not only fight together for his freedom, but we would become inseparable brothers. My family became his family. His elderly mother became my elderly mother. Maurice only lived for three months following his release from prison, after serving 29 years for a crime he did not commit. But his impact on my life was profound.

I'm a white Dutch boy, in an all-white community, worshiping in an all-white church, but I thank God that my life has been incredibly brightened by my numerous African-American relationships. Maybe that's one way the King dream can succeed...one person at a time.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

She had a dream

It was in August, 2013, the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's famous I HAVE A DREAM speech.

The doorbell rang, and I was annoyed. The Detroit Tigers were playing in the 9th inning, and I didn't appreciate the disruption.

A very nice looking young lady was at the door with a pad of paper. Was I concerned about pollutants being dumped into the Great Lakes? Frankly, at the moment, I was not. I was hoping that Miguel Cabrera would hit a ball over the fence. I tried to be polite. The woman, probably in her 20s, was well dressed and obviously on a mission. She knew her subject backward and forward. I didn't have to donate money, although it would be appreciated. Would I at least sign the sheet showing my neighbors that I cared? Would I consider sending a letter about this issue to others? A template would be provided. I hurriedly signed my name to the sheet so that I could get back to the ball game.

The more I thought about it after she left, the more ashamed I became.

I DO care about the quality of our lakes and streams...they are a part of Pure Michigan that I love. It was the dinner hour, and this person was concerned enough about the problem to do something about it, to get others involved, to give up a nice meal, to risk being shunned by impatient people like me. She had the facts and figures, she knew who to contact, she knew what had to be said...and all I wanted to do was get back to the ball game.

I can't call her up, I can't apologize, there's no way I can make up for my rude behavior. But I can pay tribute to Ms. Unknown. She has a dream. She's not going to see the benefits of her actions...but her kids and grand-kids might. Her fight is not that different than ours...those of us at HFP who want to find better alternatives to the way Michigan treats its prisoners. And our fight is not that much different than that of the late Dr. King, who had a dream that one day people would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

God bless you, Ms. Unknown. May you and I and Dr. King keep on dreaming, and may all who strive for good causes be an example to others, because the dreams must go on.

To quote Dr. King: "With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."

Friday, August 9, 2013

Give me your tired, your poor...

As an advocate for prisoners---many of whom are lonely and forgotten---I am always saddened by news accounts of people whose lives haven't gone right.

A disturbing story is coming from Grand Rapids this week. The body of a woman was found along a nature trail. She had been murdered somewhere else, and dumped there. The story goes on to give the identity of the woman, aged 47, and then to explain that she had a history of prostitution and was known to frequent an area of Grand Rapids where hookers often plied their trade.

It makes me wonder how much effort police will put into solving this crime in comparison to a similar situation in which a prominent socialite might have been brutally assaulted and killed. In this case, is it just another hooker? Will anyone really miss her, or pressure authorities to find the killer?

How tragic it is that a woman at the age of 47 is still on the streets, all feelings of self worth obviously long gone. Had she ever been married? Did she ever have children? What led to a life like this?

I'm saddened by this saga. This was a child of God, who at one time might have had hopes and dreams like the rest of us.

I'm grateful that Jesus always showed compassion for the poor and downhearted.

I stubbornly stick with the premise that God don't make no junk!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The story lives on

Great news from Winston-Salem North Carolina: The Maurice Carter play has been accepted for a staged reading today. JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER is a powerful drama written by Donald Molnar and Alicia Payne of Toronto. For years these two fine playwrights have been tweaking the script and trying to pry open doors for public exposure. Today, success! The play will be read on a stage at the National Black Theatre Festival, which is usually attended by more than 50,000 people. Playing the role of Maurice Carter will be veteran Kalamazoo actor Von Washington, who is also an internationally known playwright.

The story line has two important messages: Injustice is unacceptable, and friendship crosses all boundaries.

How amazing is it that the story of an indigent African American from Gary, Indiana, who was wrongly convicted in the 1970s, is still making an impact today?

Who would have ever suspected that the bond between Maurice Carter and me would be so strong that it would touch the lives of people years after Maurice's death?

Thanks to Molnar and Payne, the story is alive and well, fresh and new with each telling.

May God continue to use the play to promote justice and friendship.