You Stood For Love (MLK Poetry)
The gentle power of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work
Timeless teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. resonate endlessly through history’s ongoing, aching battle: humanity warring against part of itself.
Namasté, one and all.
Now, more than ever, I needed to re-read this, and reflect on the power of love; the possibility of peace. Even if just within my own heart. Let it begin there, and expand outward.
I am inspired by MLK’s words, and by his life. Let Dr. King, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, be my radiant inspirations, among others. Let there be compassion in action within my own life: in my heart, mind, words, and deeds.
In honor of Dr. King’s life, I wrote this poem below, a couple years ago. It moved me to write it, and I quietly wept as the words flowed.
Life was strange and wonderful in the 1970s, attending a segregated, virtually all-black high school, as one of very few white students. This is where I was privileged to really get educated, immersed in culture across a vast spectrum: from Shakespeare to James Baldwin; Homer to Malcolm X.
I remain deeply grateful for Garfield 's rich environment. It is there, I read Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings for the first time. I had previously been raised in the vapid emptiness of white-bread-and-mayonnaise suburbia.
Coming to the inner city, rich with languages, cultures and ideas, transformed me.
Diversity in viewpoints, in artistic expression, gave me wings. My mind and heart could soar!
In 1979, in my junior and last year at Garfield, I belatedly learned of a first-annual Seattle NAACP High-School Oratory contest, honoring the life of Dr. M.L. King Jr. I was furious that my debate coach hadn’t mentioned it — he seemed to think it was a “black thing.” NO, Mr. Sloan, the life and teachings of Dr. M.L. King Jr. remain a gift to humanity as a whole.
The original oratory has been lost, alas, together with other vital documents from that era. However, the feel of it — the rush of co-mingling love, gratitude and grief — remains fresh. I captured it in the poem below.
Included also is the link to the Google post, FYI. I have made one or two minor tweaks, so the text differs slightly. But only to my eye, I think.
YOU STOOD FOR LOVE
(In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
When you were at your powerful finest,
Defying ugly, racist ignorance and power,
I was only a only a battered young girl then.
The name Martin Luther King, Jr. never mentioned...
My kin (by blood) was profoundly polluted
By the same sad ugliness you had resisted.
Somehow, even then I knew; isolated, unaware...
The values of those around me, sick and twisted.
I knew not of the boycotts, nor the marches
Nor the fire hoses, nor straining police dogs.
In white-bread suburbia, I languished
Until I engineered and saved for my escape.
Having paid my own way out of that Hell,
Leaving my mother's home (not mine) far behind,
I lived briefly with my bio-father and his wife.
Discovered his ugliness was worse still.
As "punishment" for my resistance to indoctrination,
I was returned on a plane to my mother,
Then delivered by her, to an elegant, grand home
A boarding house, in which I’d live for years.
Room and board were paid for by my mother;
Everything else, even pencils, mine to pay for.
And horror of horrors in the family's eyes,
High school where I was enrolled? Segregated.
In my previous experience, I'd known kids
Whose hue of skin was darker than mine
But they'd been few and far between.
My new school had very few white faces.
I was surrounded by mocha, ebony, mahogany...
Like a palette from the richest hardwoods.
It was I who was the distrusted minority.
Based on their experiences? Don’t trust whitey.
It was here that my education truly began.
Finally exposed to a rich diversity of cultures.
I first read the work of Maya Angelou there,
Whose influence in my life is felt still.
Those were tense times, the mid-seventies.
Your name was still casually tossed aside
By those in power dismissing your "agitation,"
And use of the hated N-word still common.
But not at my school. I learned lessons there
Far beyond mere classroom assignments.
I was forced to face history's putrid core.
Racism and genocide our nation's foundation.
I learned of your work, how you'd opted out
Of the business-as-usual disenfranchisement
Of those who deserved better from society.
Letters From A Montgomery Jail, a revelation.
I remember still, how I’d tried hard to explain
To my racist grandfather that I liked my scRemembered how I’d been chastised years before,
After silently leaving his table after a racist epithet.
It was at this school, and exposed to your work,
That I formed my own character into something
Diametrically opposed to my family of origin.
I'd been blessed, challenged to really THINK...
My days of unquestioning blind obedience
Were finally over! Free at last, I was indeed.
I found my voice there, speaking even as one
Who was an outspoken minority for the first time.
The year I lettered in Debate, I learned belatedly
Of the first-ever City-wide Oratory Contest
In honor of your life, sponsored by the NAACP.
Racing to the library, discovered all bios gone.
And so I wrote from the heart, speaking truth,
Inspired by your shining example, Dr. King,
I added quotes of yours; those, I could find.
Said your Dream:
"So real you can almost touch it."
Brave words for some white girl daring to enter...
Yet I felt compelled, for you changed the world.
I was deeply honored, thrilled to take Second;
Told by an elder they'd wanted to give me First.
I understood; my fair skin implied I could not fully understand.
I thanked him. (The irony was not lost on me.)
I felt forever changed by all you’d said and done.
Your life was one of love in the face of hatred.
This love letter, for your compassion in action,
How you made the world a better place for us all,
Comes with thanks from the depths of my heart.
I celebrate your too-short life, Dr. King.
© Dragonheartsong (Joanne Dragonheart) 2015
Image source: https://www.google.com/amp/s/news.vanderbilt.edu/2014/12/02/nominate-2015-mlk-award/amp/