On the eve of Martin Luther King Day, I pray tribute to three African Americans who made a profound and lasting impact on my life.
The first was Sister Mattie Davis, a wisp of a little black lady who was Business Manager for a black gospel singing group based in Muskegon known as the Heavenly Echoes. The year was 1954. I was a young man 17 years of age when I landed my first job in radio broadcasting, and part of my assignment was to sign on the radio station WMUS at 8:15 AM on Sundays. Each Sunday the Heavenly Echoes provided a live broadcast, and the host and announcer was Mattie Davis. This white, Christian Reformed boy was amazed at the difference in prayers. At my home, in my school and in my church, our prayers included lofty phrases of “thees” and “thous” in words of praise and supplication. In the Heavenly Echoes broadcast, Sister Mattie Davis remembered to include those first responders and people on the street protecting our safety, as she prayed for “policemens” and “firemens!”
The second was the Rev. Cy Young, a black itinerant preacher with a background in professional black entertainment. Cy had the unusual gift of recitation, and had memorized all of the major Martin Luther King speeches. A towering black man with a striking slash of white in his otherwise black head of hair, had a booming voice to match, and his version of “I Have a Dream” brought tears to my eyes every time I heard it. We worked together for years until he was hit and killed by a car. His dream was to form chapters of a MARTIN LUTHER KING ASSOCIATION in every community to promote racial harmony. “Douglas,” he would say, “When I meet Jesus and he asks me how many white people I know, I don’t want to get there empty-handed!”
The third was Maurice Carter, an indigent black man from Gary, Indiana, who found himself serving a life sentence in the Michigan prison system for a crime he did not commit. I spent the next 9 years fighting for his freedom, after we met in 1995. He was finally released in the summer of 2004, not because he was exonerated, but because he was dying. He lived for three months following his release, with experiences that he and I and my family treasured.
I’m convinced that it was by divine intervention that these three relatively unknown African Americans not only touched my life, but prepared the way for a vibrant and effective ministry today known as HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS!
As we prepare for MLK Day, may my dear friends Mattie, Cy and Maurice RIP!