I Ain’t Nothing but a Cherry-Picker...
by Kelly Ann Braun, Member of the BAT Leadership Team
I make no apologies. It is going to be a long one, I can feel it in my writer’s bones. This has been welling up for a while and sometimes I know no other way to get it out, but to begin to type.
I am an “all or none” person.
I am at times a wretched cherry-picker. I go into our very expensive grocery store in the nearby suburbs and ONLY buy their BOGO/B1G2 deals (Buy One, Get One/Buy 1 Get 2). I go in like a merciless huntress with the flyer ads in hand, walking past their majorly marked-up milk they think everyone will buy, grab the BOGO roasts on sale and the syrup for which I have a coupon that they will double, cart the cream cheese that is a steal (likely the buy-by date is near expiring) and then I get the heck out of there in under 17 minutes. A dear friend who works for one of these type of pricier grocery stores, said the owners hate shoppers like me.
But, when our local thrift store was still in place, I would allow at least a good, solid two hours for the shopping excursion. I had no list in mind. I would methodically start in one corner and wind my adventure around every rack and shelf, just kind of mystically being led to what we or others needed or might be able to use. My cart would be full. My thoroughness would have left no aisle unscrutinized. My wallet would have still had money left in it via the two color tags that were half off.
Last week (it is Sunday January 17th when I am writing this) I shook my head, when up started to pop all of the MLK memes. ‘Damn, wretched cherry-pickers we are,’ I thought. We, and yes, I am meaning the white-washed-privileged folks (I want to say those mostly born like myself after 1964), and I do not know who all else really, but plenty a large amount of us, that I have to use the plural first person pronoun of WE. We just seem to LOVE pulling out “I have a dream…” or a couple other choice skimmed-off and out famous quotes.
When I had re-entered college in my early 40s, looking to obtain a teaching degree in Integrated Social Studies 7-12, I was completely waylaid by the shock and horror of the realization that I had through my K-12 school years, been only given a very surface, shallow rendition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. All that he was and did, or all that the movement and era did and was, and worse over ALL THAT STILL IS UNACCEPTABLY GOING ON thus all that STILL NEEDS DONE, was dried and scattered like powdered milk. They (someone(s) representative of a bigger something then to relegate the pronoun to individual names or groups) had given me a cherry-picked history. They had filled my mind cart with pale snippets and blanched sound bites. On average it all was done and said yearly in a rote manner in almost as little of an increment in minutes as it took me to shop in the first store mentioned above. Note: I graduated from high school in 1982 and Martin Luther King Day became a National holiday in 1983, so really they were not so very obligated to make mention or to teach much about it all. (Usually Martin Luther King lessons were in the spring actually…crammed somewhere near Spring Break and seemed, eerily so, to hang on his cruel death date.)
My Education Foundation professor (when I was a non-trad) had us to answer the question “Why did we want to teach what we had chosen to teach?” My answer was found right in his question. I answered “I want to teach history, because I want to pass on the art of wallowing in the WHYs. To me it is the deepest level of learning”.
You see, we all have the Who, What, Where, and When down pat. We all can answer Who: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Most can even name his wife Coretta and probably know he had four children.
The What reply is easy: It is the birthday of the man who gave the famous “I Have a Dream… Speech.”
The question Where, starts to cause some confusion as some will shout out Washington DC, Alabama, or Detroit, debating with one another the place where the actual “history” took place.
The answers to When, are hung ‘after the assassination of JFK’ and so nearly all are able to get somewhere in the ballpark of the late 60s.
Some, not all, but many will answer the question “How did he die?” by saying he was shot in a parade, while marching for Civil Rights, and did not get to see the bill actually passed. Check, check, check. One, two, three. [buzzer sound for time’s up and the loud wrong answer game show sound is hauntingly heard]
So after I scurried through the grocery store for my bargains, imagine that I or my children would only put one or two of the items away and the rest would be left to spoil.
That is exactly what I feel like far too many of us do time and time again. We take the regurgitated media spin on the reason for the lumped-together birthday of Dr. King, the quickie close reading on the Civil Rights movement and boy, oh boy a day off school or work, and we further sort through, grabbing the barest minimum morsels we think we need to get by, carrying on in quite the routine manner and way, as we always have.
Those who lived through the 50s and 60s are becoming a dying breed. We have long stopped mourning. Wait, some of us never began.
Since the New Year, I have been doing some deep and heavy-duty reading. I have gone down in some very deep WHY caverns. These are very introspective and personal journeys. And, I humbly admit, many of them I am still processing and am not at the final level of learning, so that I feel I could teach. Neither can I direct you to go down all the pondering paths in the same exact manner. I think it would be the same as trying to write down one of my thrift store trips and findings, and then tell you by means of a meager list, to go to a different (or even the same) store in another state and buy this, this and this. It would never work. The goods are dynamic not static.
The best minimum I can offer is to just give you tidbits of where I have been mentally and spiritually these last few days (and I am talking for several quantities twice as long as the good ole thrift store trips). Here are just some samplings of the WHYs I lingered on this season:
WHY Detroit? (My Facebook banner and my profile picture reveal that Detroit has been on my heart in much the same manner Chicago was during the Dyett Hunger Strike or the mayoral run-off last year. My profile picture takes a united stance with Badass Teachers for DPS teachers. My banner pleads and offers information for water donations to be sent to Flint.) I found myself entranced in that particular speech for one entire evening. http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_speech_at_the_great_march_on_detroit.1.html
So, Why did Dr. King choose Detroit June 23, 1963? Why did so many meet him there? Why did I stumble on THIS speech at this time? Why did he pull text from the prophet Amos (Amos 5:24)? Why THOSE WORDS at THAT TIME? (Trust me, when I tell you that I personally believe that Dr. King was a very deliberate man and did nothing or relatively nothing without having a reason behind it all. I think he was a WHY man!)
Why has that river of justice not flowed yet? Why?
Why don’t we read William Cowper’s exquisitely powerful poems in entirety and often? http://www.brycchancarey.com/slavery/cowperpoems.htm
Why should it all matter to anyone else? (And I could say ‘why should it matter to EVERYONE else?’) Why does it NOT MATTER or is NOT KNOWN OR UNDERSTOOD STILL BY SO MANY. Why are we so blind and deaf? Why do we still cower and hide behind this sheen of MLK glossy mark on our calendars and do not fall beseechingly repentant on our faces. Why, is there such large-scale supercilious hatred and an utter span of unawareness of the lack of understanding? Why are we not crying and broken for what we have done or not done? Why, I cry out.
And on it goes.
If one scrolled down just a tad on my personal FB page where this piece was originally posted, one would see a meme I posted. A quote of Dr. King. “If our economic system is to survive, there has to be a better distribution of wealth ... we can't have a system where some
people live in superfluous, inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”
I tell you with the gravest of earnest that when I did that…when I posted that quote, I immediately felt guilty. I DID IT AGAIN…….I could not believe it. A pet peeve of mine is when people take King’s words and make it all about themselves. That ires the tar out of me, and yet, I did it.
So I asked myself why? Why did I truly choose to post that quote? The answer came and eased some of my guilt. I posted that because the thought of Bernie Sanders getting elected is a very near and dear thought to me right now. And so that this writing does not turn political, suffice it to say I believe Senator Sanders is a torch bearer of the humanitarian flames fanned by Dr. King.
And then, because of all that I had saturated my mind with visually and through the readings, in the last week or so… a bunch of thoughts and visions came flooding into my mind.
What if in Detroit, such a bargain basement price had not been placed on people? What if money would have been found to supply the water equivalent to the value and worth of those people? (Yes, you can use ‘priceless’ as a weight and measure---that works for me.) Now, back it up a bit. What if we had stopped the blackhole loss of nearly 100,000 jobs when GM left? What if instead of deinvestment and decimation for the last sixty years-- what if the whole entire United States had esteemed and embraced Detroit? What if we had determined to feed that metropolis? What if we had determined to build up that beautiful city? What if we had determined to LOVE DETROIT’s people as lived out in whatever support systems thoughtful, intelligent, truly-caring (not greedy, dishonest, bigoted) people could dream up. (I live in Youngstown, Ohio, I know the pain of living in a city deemed the RUST BELT! But, I DO NOT know the damnation and despair of lead poisoning on such an intolerable macro-scale or the haunt of micro-scale but deadly legionnaires disease lurking in my tap.) I challenge every single solitary one of you who just made it all the way through my long ramblings, to please find a primary source document (preferably off-the-beaten path) that Dr. King has written and saturate your living soul with it.
Intentionally find a way to SLOW DOWN and not read it at a Twitter or Instagram warp speed. Google some pictures, some original pictures of Dr. King (I typed his name in along with Detroit, this most recent last time). Just submerse yourself and soak in the sights for a long meditating amount of time. Take one picture that strikes you and study it, truly study it, then click and follow as much as you can about that one picture. Find a WHY question or two. Reach into the hollow history wealth in yourself (ehhh even if you are a scholar in this area, you know it is ad infinitum). Pry until it smarts. Then keep going further. When it hurts, when it causes almost a true physical sensation of pain…I believe, you have reached your soul and then empathy can educate its way out and permeate a cold culture with the good and right for the good and right reasons.
“We are coming to see now, the psychiatrists are saying to us, that many of the strange things that happen in the sub-conscience, many of the inner conflicts, are rooted in hate. And so they are saying, "Love or perish." But Jesus told us this a long time ago. And I can still hear that voice crying through the vista of time, saying, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." And there is still a voice saying to every potential Peter, "Put up your sword." History is replete with the bleached bones of nations, history is cluttered with the wreckage of communities that failed to follow this command. And isn’t it marvelous to have a method of struggle where it is possible to stand up against an unjust system, fight it with all of your might, never accept it, and yet not stoop to violence and hatred in the process? This is what we have.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. June 23, 1963 Detroit
Do not bring cherry-picked quotes to your (our) selfish lives. Stand in line behind all that Dr. King envisioned and live his legacy. His call was to LOVE…and to FIGHT FOR THAT LOVE, while loving.
DO NOT CHERRY-PICK the topics of Institutionalized Racism, Civil Rights or #BlackLivesMatter
Dare yourself to delve into the depths of WHY Dr. King dreamt.