“Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” This is the title of a book written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 advocating for human rights and a sense of hope. It was Dr. King’s last book before his assassination. It was written in a time of crisis in our nation. It is still relevant as it raises a critical question for us today as we celebrate the MLK holiday and his legacy this week.
This is a dark and a very troubling period in our nation described as a bitter contentious time. Every day there seems to be another attack on the values and truths we consider crucial to a democracy and a decent and just society.
“The Dream” that Dr. King so eloquently articulated for us and gave his life to make a reality is under siege. We now live in a nation where leaders express and encourage a vision of division and bigotry. So the question Dr. King asked seems even more relevant and crucial: “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”
Without denying the awful reality that faces us or suggesting some easy solution, I have a positive suggestion. Something happened in Durham last Nov. 26 that offers a way forward with hope. There was a gathering, as The Herald-Sun reported, at the Hayti Heritage Center to celebrate the naming of a section on Interstate 85 between the Cole Mill Road exit and the U.S. 70 Bypass in Durham as the “Dr. John Hope Franklin Highway.”
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Franklin was an amazing man who spent a significant part of his life in Durham and claimed our city as his home at the end of his distinguished life. He was one the most revered American historians who wrote the classic, “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans,” which helped us understand African-American history in the context of American society. His brilliant career included professorships at N.C. Central University, the University of Chicago and Duke University. Words are inadequate to capture his contributions as we remember him in the month of the 103rd anniversary of his birth.
He taught us that the road to hope leads us to look with open and honest eyes at our past with the way it embraced injustice and pain for many. Only when we acknowledge the truth about our past are we free to live together in community with hope.
The problem is that honest conversations about our past which leads to hopeful relationships are hard to come by. It requires building trust which means spending significant time together. I know that this is hard work, but it is worth the effort. The congregation that I served in Durham for 33 years spent time developing relations with our African-American neighbors which enriched our life as a congregation. We were able to be honest with each other, discuss painful truths, enjoy each other’s company, and work together to build a Beloved Community in Durham.
Unfortunately, this road to hope is less traveled because it is easier to talk about these realities with those who are “like us” rather than venturing out to engage our diverse neighbors. When we make the effort, some of the things that we discover that need to be done are extremely challenging:
▪ Working to ensure that all children in Durham, especially the most vulnerable, have adequate schools and receive good educational opportunities.
▪ Working to ensure that affordable, safe housing is available for those with the greatest need.
▪ Working to ensure that law enforcement and the criminal justice system provide safety and justice for African Americans and Latinos.
▪ Working to decrease the numbers of our neighbors who live in poverty.
None of these challenges are easy or can be accomplished overnight. Archbishop Oscar Romero is one of my heroes. He gave his life in the struggle for racial justice and equality in El Salvador. He once said that when we dream alone, it is only a dream. However, when we dream together, it is the beginning of a new reality.
Next time you are discouraged about the state of affairs, take a ride on the John Hope Franklin Highway in Durham named for the man who taught us how to hope in tough times. He continues to encourage us to keep hope alive by honestly facing our past so we can move into the future together.