How Martin Luther King, Jr. Changed My Life

Just to get it out there—I am a white girl raised by other white people, and I love my heritage. Obviously I did not choose it, yet I do embrace all the wonderful things about my ancestry. I believe everyone should do the same, regardless of their heritage: love the good parts, set aside the rest. What I love most about the heritage I am passing on to my children is being part of a culture that accepts and cultivates a love for all people of every color, shape, size, and heritage. Although it has not always been thus, I celebrate today and its advancements in humanity and love.

While I did not live during the time that Martin Luther King, Jr. was working to break down the walls of segregation and racism, I certainly have been directly affected by the work of him and countless other civil rights activists.

I grew up in Las Vegas. Not in the South. Not in some backwoodsy place. Or so I thought.


I went to the same elementary school for kindergarten through fifth grade.  I didn't think anything of the fact that children were bused to my school and they all happened to be African-American. I didn't think anything of the fact that up until around second and third grade did I have any colored friends who lived close enough so we could actually play together after school. (My dear friend from second grade was half Korean, half Japanese.) As a young child, how could I know that my schooling was part of a desegregation plan? Even when I had to get bused to a sixth grade center over in a poorer neighborhood, I did not question why. I just knew that the apartments the bus drove past every day were significantly lacking in curb appeal and I wondered why they didn't have nice lawns. And yes, I am ashamed of my ignorance, but I didn't know better. It was the 1980s and shouldn't have all that garbage been fixed by then? Seriously.

I count my sixth grade year as one of culture shock and adventure: fist fights, two bomb threats, more graffiti than I had ever seen in all my years alive, and getting to know what it felt like to be a minority. I even felt tall that year. I loved it! The experience showed me how life can be full of so much more if we open our eyes to who is standing next to us. I do not recommend fighting, bomb threats, or graffiti, but the experience of being in my friends' neighborhood and them having added confidence because it was their turf, so to speak, helped me to fully develop the love I have for all people.

Another experience I look on as adding to my cultural awareness was the time my dad took us to his friend Nate's church. They worked together at the Nevada Test Site, but in his spare time, Nate was a Baptist preacher for a solely African-American church over in North Las Vegas. From what I understand (and I could be off), Nate said he would take a Book of Mormon if my dad would come to his church. So not only did my dad go to his friend's church, but he took all of us with him. I will NEVER forget walking into the little, bright white, steepled building and everyone staring at the passel of little white kids (my brothers and myself) and my parents. I am certain, by the buzz in the room, they were thinking we made some wrong turn and were crazy. But then the good pastor, our family friend, personally welcomed and introduced us to the congregation from the pulpit and things went natural from there. I loved how there was a band with a drum set playing loud praises to Jesus. It was way more exuberant than the church services I was used to. People were getting up and singing loudly with the choir and yelling out Amen!, Hallelujah! and Praise Jesus! and some ladies even fainted!! When the service was over, many people gave us hugs and made us feel very welcome to come back any time. I loved it and count myself blessed for the experience.

I'm not sure how much time passed after that, but Nate's church was burned to the ground. I was super young at the time, so I don't know if it was a race-related thing or if it was simply a tragic event caused by lightning or faulty wiring and such. I do remember how my dad helped to organize his fellow co-workers and members of our church to go help that congregation to clean up the wreckage. They used the back section of our lot as a dumping ground for any beams not completely destroyed in the fire. I remember my dad and Nate talking about how his congregation felt amazed by and grateful for such an outpouring of love from white persons in the community. Even though my dad was from the South, he made choices to overcome his social programming and tried to give us an example to be proud of and live by. He failed at times in this area, but I am proud of the times he did the right thing.

We had those beams from Nate's church piled in our backyard for years and remembering them all charred black with rusting nails reminds me of brotherly love, friendship, and true Christian service.

Without the great work of love that Martin Luther King, Jr. labored to achieve, my life would not be what it is today. My life would be decidedly less vibrant without the variety of humanity that I currently enjoy. I feel deeply grateful to be accepted for who I am and not what I look like, as well as the freedom to interact with everyone I choose without any laws hindering the natural, happy flow of friendship. I have the very best of friends and acquaintances and racism never poisons even one interaction. We just work with each other as decent human beings, loving each other for the goodness in our hearts, and helping each other to make it another day. 

I say thank you, from the depths of my heart, to Martin Luther King, Jr. and every single individual before or after him who sacrificed time, talents, dignity, and even life in order to ensure the basic right to freedom given to all people by God.

3 comments:

  1. I appreciated your blog very much. I shared it on twitter & facebook! Thank you! :)

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  2. Bravo to UR dad & his friend Nate for teaching by example & putting into practice about that which Dr.King preached <3 #MLK

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  3. Oh, it's such a shame that Nate's church burned down! I would have loved to be sitting next to you, soaking in the amens and hallelujahs!

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