I must admit that Dr. Martin Luther King didn’t make much of an impact on my life while he was alive.
Sure, I remember the I Have a Dream Speech. I remember the sadness and dismay upon his assassination when I reported that story on the air in 1968.
But, frankly, I was white, living in an all-white community, attending an all-white church, and Dr. King’s challenges and concerns bore little resemblance to mine.
Then, a few years later, I booked a guest for my morning radio talk show to discuss Black History Week (that was before Black History Month).
The date arrived, and this tall, striking black man with a tiny patch of white hair in the front walked in. His name was Cy Young, a Grand Rapids taxi driver and former nightclub entertainer who would later become an itinerant preacher.
What a delightful radio interview! Cy Young told how he found a discarded book of Dr. Martin Luther King speeches in a parking lot. As he sat in his taxi waiting for calls, he started memorizing. He had been blessed with the gift of recitation, and he learned all of MLK’s speeches. With his big, booming voice, he delivered those addresses with a fervor that stirred audiences and would have made King proud!
At the conclusion of that one-hour show, Cy recited the entire I HAVE A DREAM SPEECH.
I must confess that I was teary-eyed when I signed off.
That began a long and meaningful friendship that lasted until he was struck down by a car, as he left a civil rights meeting. I place Cy Young’s name on a list of people whose influence led me into this honorable profession of prisoner advocacy.
Cy’s dream was to form a Martin Luther King Association with the express purpose of seeing that young and budding African Americans would get a fair chance in life. That leads me to believe that Cy already knew what I still had to learn: African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites; black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to federal or state prison in their lifetime; and, the imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women.
It reminds me of these words.
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
Both of these men are my heroes, and I honor them today.
Rev. Cy Young and Dr. Martin Luther King: one local, one international, both with voices for harmony among the races, today enjoying their reward, side-by-side, in the Promised Land!