I think we can all do better. This thought has occurred to me over the last several days as I wrote a blog post about upcoming ML King Jr. Day events in my community. While I was familiar with the basics of Dr. King’s life and work, I realized in the process of researching that post that I knew very little about this man. Reading through the materials found at The King Center website especially, I found myself transfixed by this time in American history and moved by Dr. King’s sermons and speeches.
The fact that I have also been working on a significant project about the Gullah people and culture over last 7 months has probably also heightened my awareness and interest in African American history. Never heard of the Gullah? This term refers to both a language and a people, descendents of enslaved Africans who live from the Wilmington, North Carolina area to Northern Florida. A large concentration of these descendents lived in relative isolation on the sea islands in South Carolina (the Lowcountry) down into Georgia, from the Civil War through the modern era. (Visit the new Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor website for more information).
The Gullah have an incredible culture and history, which is finally being recognized more widely for their numerous contributions to American food, art, language, and religious beliefs. For instance, if you love Southern food like pit cooked barbeque, okra and shrimp-n-grits, then thank the Gullah! It is a fascinating, LIVING culture – thanks to many Gullah who have worked tirelessly to keep it from sinking into obscurity. I’ll write more soon about the Gullah, so stay tuned…
For now I’ll salute Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy of creating a better, more just world through personal accountability, non-violence, and service to others, with a poem I find fitting for this day. While Maya Angelou’s poem The Rock Cries Out To Us Today, has been explained as an ode to environmentalism and to rally respect for our natural world, I also infer that taken as a whole, the poem directs the reader to look for courage in the eyes of your family, causes that you find just and worthy, and in your country.
The poem encourages the reader to separate themselves from fear and violence and allow hope, dreams and your own personal resolve to determine your future. Thanks to heroes like Dr. King, African Americans (and women, folks with disabilities, minorities, children and pretty much every American), obtained the right to create (“mold”) their own futures.
Yes, “doing better” when compared to Dr. King’s remarkable deeds and legacy, seems like a formidable task, but there exists the opportunity of hope, and this begins with you. As Ms. Angelou so poignantly says, “The horizon leans forward, Offering you space to place new steps of change.”.
The opportunity to “do better” for yourself really starts by helping others.
The Rock Cries Out To Us Today by Maya Angelou
A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no more hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
The River sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.
Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind.
Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.
Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers–desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply