Monday, January 18, 2010

Reflections on MLK Day

After a long break, I am getting back to my blog. For the record, I have been sick without actually being sick (according to my standards—which means no fever, in all this) since Christmas. The fact that I went to run in the rain on Christmas eve didn’t surely help but who knew I was gotta get into all this? The cough, which kept me up at night, seems to be almost gone but. On my forth visit to the third doctor (Italian family doctor, Italian friend who is a doctor, Canadian doctor in Cloverdale) I have been told I might have broken one of my ribs. From coughing too hard. X-rays will tell.

But. But I didn’t start writing this post thinking I was gonna get into this, but that shows how bothered I am by the fact that I haven’t been feeling decently well in three weeks. Ok. This said. I am glad I made it through my introductory speech today. (Ok, there you go. That was the original idea and the opening line for my post today. And that’s where—see above—a stridently derailed train of thought brought my writing).

I attended AUM first MLK’s Reflection Breakfast organized by the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (which means Tim Spraggins for me).

“A Day on, Not a Day Off” was theme/slogan for the Breakfast and Service Day; students participated in a variety of on campus and off campus services projects as part of the event. The kids were also asked to pick one of Dr. King most famous quotes and comment on it. Undergraduate and Graduate AUM students from China, Malawi, Turkey,… had been chosen to recite the quote in their original language (a brilliant idea to show the reach and global inspirational power of MLK’s teachings). For similar reasons, I, the Italian in Montgomery, was chosen to give a brief speech and introduce the keynote speaker, Father Manuel Williams. I, instead, limited the Italian-ness I brought in to my accent and me saying “Buongiorno” (Good Morning) at the beginning of my speech. No proverbs or dicta from the old country came to me while I was preparing for the speech. Sorry Tim. If I had thought about that a little bit more, looking at what the foreign students did this morning, I could have quoted Father Lorenzo Milani, my other true inspirational role model while growing up, who was an unconventional revolutionary educator and an advocate of conscious objection. (Needless to say ostracized by the Church).

Anyway, I don’t recall having had to introduce anyone in a similar occasion. I have introduced scholars at conferences and when I was working as a film journalist, I might have occasionally presented actors, directors, and critics at film festivals. So this was, so I felt, somewhat a first time for me. I hadn’t met Father Williams until this morning, and the fact that I didn’t personally know him (all I knew was what I read in the little bio that was sent to me by Tim last Friday) troubled me quite a bit. So in my little speech I talked about Dr. King and introduced the speaker as one of the many people that daily either work and dedicate their lives in the service of others here in the Montgomery community. Father Williams turned out to be an excellent speaker. And, most likely, a person who needed a warmer, ad hoc introduction than the one I gave for him. A modern priest –he aptly made a reference to an episode of the Boondocks when Dr. King comes back on Earth and harshly commented on what he sees happening around him. A priest who is not afraid to talk about the necessity of doing hard work while pursuing your dreams and, most significantly, about the importance of being radical. Because love is radical. And without love dedication cannot be there.

"Everyone has the power for greatness, “said one of the students quoting Dr. King—“not for fame, but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.” In the end, greatness comes from an act of selfless love, and we all as human beings have the potential for that, Dr. King was right.

But lets go back to the roots, to the necessity of being radical today. Among other things, Fr. Williams brought up the need to have a conversation (at the very least) about the fact that President Obama was given the Nobel Prize for Peace in the midst of the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires. Back in the sixties, Dr. King was prompting America to see the “common moral roots” of the civil rights and the peace movements. Once you understand, heart and mind, the connections, it becomes easier to make sense of this crazy world of ours and see what should be and what shouldn’t be. You become a radical, and that’s really that’s what they scornfully call you until they get it.

As I was leaving the podium and walking back to my seat Father William shook my hand and whispered to me, “I like radical.” (So I guess it wasn’t all wasted after all).

Father Williams, Pastor of Resurrectionist Catholic Church in Montgomery, seems to be a radical. He’s very active in the community and has opposed municipal policies that threaten the poor. He is executive director of Resurrection Catholic Missions of the South and he oversees the administration of a hospital for children with major disabilities. He works with the youth and is committed to address the needs of African Americans living with HIV/AIDS—this last a topic I surely would love to have conversation with Fr. Williams about.

So I decided that I am going to give him a shot, and go to his church this Sunday. Now I can hear my close friends saying, “There you go, after all that researching Christian rock and the Evangelicals here comes the call.” As I said, I’ll give it a shot; plus, I am a writer with a soul. And in the end, as I keep repeating to the ones who ask about my religious beliefs, I am Catholic by default.

I believe in people and their power to fight for what’s right. That’s where my faith is if you wanna call like that.

In his closing remarks, Tim thanked the AUM community and the “off campus” guests. He said this Breakfast is just the first one of many to come. Because this AUM tradition will last forever, he repeated pronouncing clearly the word forever twice. Forever. Forever. (A bit awkward to say the least.)

While at the doctor’s office this morning, after the grits, the bacon, and the speeches, I reread Dr. King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail. Tonight it’s time to make it up to you, Don Milani. Good night everybody, and good thoughts for you. (And yes, I didn’t get to volunteer today but I have been reflecting a lot.)