Monday, January 16, 2017

My Friend, Wilbur Henry, and the Late, Great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

When I was 16, my family moved from rural Pennsylvania to inner-city New Jersey. I went from attending a school comprised of one Black student, one Vietnamese student, one Polynesian student, and a majority of Caucasian students to a school with Caucasian students, Asian students, and a majority of Black students. We had moved to New Jersey to serve at our first church as my father had just retired as a PA State Trooper and taken his first pastorate.

My friend, Wilbur Henry:

The first person to become a dear friend of my family was a sage man named Mr. Wilbur Henry. Wilbur was in his nineties when we met him. He had lived a lifetime and experienced life in ways I never would. Wilbur was a well educated Black man who had grown up during segregation. He had experienced the ugly face of hate and discrimination firsthand. He knew what it was like to be judged not on his worth as a person, not on his merits, not on his talents and gifts but merely on the color of his skin. Nevertheless, Wilbur persevered and made a difference with the life he lived. He became an educator, a community leader, and a church deacon and made a difference in the lives of numerous people throughout his years of living and his legacy continues to this day.

Wilbur Marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Wilbur often partook of Sunday dinners with my family. I enjoyed these special times because not only was he a kind, wise man but he made history come alive for me. During one visit, he told me that he had known the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wilbur and his wife, Minnie, had met Dr. King on several occasions. According to Wilbur, Dr. King was an intelligent, passionate man. Dr. Martin Luther King and my friend, Wilbur, believed that all people should be treated equally and share the same inalienable rights. For this, they marched on Washington, DC on August 28, 1963. They peacefully made their voices heard and in 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed followed in 1965 by the Voting Rights Act.

The Late, Great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Courtesy of Nobel Prize

Michael (later changed to Martin) Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 to Reverend Michael (later changed to Martin) Luther King and Alberta Williams King in Atlanta, Georgia. (King Institute - Stanford University)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would grow up to become a Baptist minister and take over the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta Georgia where his father had preached.  About being a preacher, Dr. King stated: "Of course I was religious, I grew up in the church. My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher, my daddy's brother is a preacher. So I didn't have much choice." (King Institute - Stanford University)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended segregated schools in Georgia during his childhood. He would continue his education at Moorehouse, an all Negro Institute, and later Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania (my home state) where he would be named President of a predominantly white class. (Nobel Prize)

Furthermore, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would become a pivotal member of the American Civil Rights Movement by leading peaceful protests like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington, DC. His actions as a social activist would have a lasting influence as laws were enacted. He believed that, "The time is always right to do what is right." (History)

Peaceful Protests:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an effective social activist who believed in peaceful protests. He based his philosophy on the methods of Mohandas Gandhi, a follower of Hindu faith from India who believed in passive resistance. Dr. King's Philosophy of Non-Violence Social Change follows six steps: Information Gather, Education, Personal Commitment, Discussion and Negotiation, Direct Action, and Reconciliation. (The King Center)

In 1955, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as a spokesman for the Montgomery Alabama Bus Boycott, which was a peaceful protest to end segregation on buses after black, seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give her seat on the bus to a white man and was subsequently arrested. (The King Center)

Martin Luther King, Jr. riding a bus during the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Photo Credited to Bettmann and  Corbis

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr led a peaceful march on Washington, DC to protest Civil Rights for all Americans regardless of race or ethnicity. Dr. King believed that no man, or woman, should be judged merely by the color of their skin. He made this point clear in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the end of the march. (History) Dr. King declared, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

Martin Luther King, Jr. - March on Washington - "I Have a Dream" Speech
Photo Credit: Julian Wasser

A Lifetime Legacy:

His dream went even deeper. He wanted to impact his world and make changes for the betterment of others. He wanted to leave a legacy for his children and future generations. He wanted his lifetime to be a legacy.

Lessons Learned from Wilbur Henry and my NJ Friends:

While Wilbur taught me history and the value of kindness and determination, I learned a myriad of valuable lessons during my years in Florence, NJ. Although being sandwiched between Trenton and Camden, the town is a very close-knit community with very athletic ambitions and primarily Catholic following. Enter a Christian, teenaged girl in her junior year of high school who couldn't play sports because her knee would chronically dislocate. God, in His ever faithful way, had a plan. I began working with the school's athletic trainer and soon became the lead student athletic trainer for the high school football and boy's basketball teams. My way to "belong" had been established.

In contrast, I didn't realize how I truly did belong until one day when trouble happened. It was after an assembly, two of our Caucasian football players have me cornered and are giving me a difficult time. These guys take pride in making teachers cry. I had never experienced anything so ghastly in rural Pennsylvania. I wasn't alone. I see three of our Black football players coming toward us. They intervened on my behalf that day. They protected me as one of their own.

From Raph, Neil, and Joey, my three heroes, I learned that it is a person's character that matters and not the color of their skin. I learned that kindness and empathy can cross and break down boundaries. I learned to see beyond skin color to the heart beating beneath. I learned that goodness isn't based upon age, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. I learned that hate only exists because it is taught and tolerated. I learned that love and truth can drive out darkness, hate, and evil.

What Will Our Legacy Be?

I don't know about you but I want to leave a lifetime legacy as well. The best way to do that is to love all others deeply, to show empathy and compassion, to be honest and fair, to speak up against injustice, to stand firm in my faith, and to teach my child what is true and just. When life gets difficult, I can't run away or hide. Instead, I must persevere.

We need to be the light and the love that our world so desperately needs!

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