Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.
--Martin Luther King, Jr.
I wrote the poem below when I was about 9, after I watched the MLK documentary on PBS. I cried for hours, during and after that program, was stunned and felt empty and unsafe. I was very young and overly emotional: a little frizzy head brown girl in a town where I was chased home from school, pelted with rocks and snowballs, and called nigger. Yes, nigger, in the 1980's, in a middle class educated rural neighborhood one short hour from the West Philadelphia cultural oasis where I sit and write today. I can hardly believe it myself, and if I hadn't lived it I would think that last line a dramatic exaggeration. It happened.
A child, I wrote this poem in honor of an amazing man that I felt, somehow, was fighting for me from beyond the grave. His grace and love, his words, helped me bare and sit stony-eyed while boys twice my size hocked spitballs into my hair on the school bus, overjoyed by the fact that my thick curls (nickname: "brillo" and "SOS") made it impossible to remove them out without getting slime all over my hands.
Thank you Mr. king, for what you've done.
You let freedom ring, for each and everyone.
You didn't live to see fifty-eight
but your spirit lingers on, strong and great.
Now here we are working and living,
us in our homes, and you in heaven.
And it doesn't matter now, what happened in the past
because we're all god's children, and Free at Last.
Not exactly a work of art, and at the time I was more focused on meter and rhyme, and not so much content, because I knew sadly (then and now), that "what happened in the past" does matter, and we have a long way to go until we are all free. Yet, I took his words and his life's cause to heart, and they live in me, still.
I hope never to stop taking those steps, even when I can't see the whole staircase.
I hope to always know it's there.
I hope for the same in all of us.