Thursday, July 17, 2014

Memorial #3 -- Dr. Vincent Harding (1931 - 2014)

This tribute is late but I think Dr. Vincent Harding would be okay with that. I’ve been distracted from writing by doing things – things for my congregation and things for my community’s Martin Luther King Committee.

Dr. Harding had a long lens of wisdom on how social change happens. He believed America is still a developing nation when it comes to creating a multi-religious, multi-racial democracy.

Harding was a close adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King and wrote King’s famous antiwar speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence." Harding reminded us that “King believed that America had to deal with what he called triple evils: the evil of racism, the evil of materialism and the evils of militarism, and he saw those three very much connected to each other."

He had no patience with those who sugarcoat King’s legacy. “If we lock up Martin Luther King, and make him unavailable for where we are now so we can keep ourselves comfortably distant from the realities he was trying to grapple with, we waste King. All of us are being called beyond those comfortable places . . . That’s the key for the 21st century – to answer the voice within us, as it was within Martin, which says ‘do something for somebody.’ We can learn to play on locked pianos and to dream of worlds that do not yet exist.”

After King was assassinated, Harding became the first director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center and of the Institute of the Black World. He later became a professor at Iliff School of Theology in Denver. A fellow professor described him as "the most important civil rights leader not everyone has heard of."

I have heard of Dr. Harding. I met him once at conference on white privilege where I heard him speak. He was a gentle, powerful presence whose very being demonstrated that “We are not alone in this struggle for the re-creation of our own lives and the life of our community.” So if I delayed writing this to remind those governing my community that their mission was to reflect Dr. King’s values – equity and peace and reconciliation – in all public policy and to reach out to marginalized populations, I think Dr. Harding would just smile and say, ‘good start, Mim’.

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