2017 MLK, Jr. Day in Tyler, Texas: “The Time is Always Ripe to Do What is Right,” reported by J.D. (Joffre) Meyer

This year’s theme for the 31st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Interfaith Community Program was “The Time is Always Ripe to Do What is Right.” This statement by Dr. King comes from his Letter from the Birmingham Jail in 1963, and it preceded his “I Have a Dream” speech. The MLK Program was sponsored by Tyler Together Race Relations Forum (TTRRF).
First we met at the Downtown Square before the short march to the Catholic Cathedral. That’s where we heard a young Hispanic male speaker (Geronimo___) begin with observing that the strife of others paved the way for the struggle for things of value. We hear lots of bad news, but we need to produce good news within ourselves, and bring it into the world. It starts with our vertical relationship with God. Love the Lord with your whole heart and soul. The next Biblical guidance is to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). This means we must ask ourselves, “What can I do for someone next to me?” Let’s fight social, economic, and racial injustice. This is the horizontal line; it goes between other people. Find our purpose and passion. The greatest calamity on the self is when good people do nothing and evil prevails. Speak up! In the USA, we have freedom of speech, assembly, and the press. The greatness of America includes protesting for right.
Anwar Khalifa of the local Islam Mosque and TTRRF spoke next. Khalifa asserted that there remains room for improvement in civil rights, religious freedom, and poverty. We must speak up when we hear derogatory terms directed toward a group. Such examples include “Jew” as a verb, the “n-word,” calling all Muslims terrorists, and anti-gay stuff in general. Moslems and Jews are among those worried nowadays. Swastikas are being painted on walls throughout the country. Immigrants fear becoming scapegoats. Violence toward minorities is on the rise. When something bad affects one of us, all of us are affected indirectly. The struggle for Muslim progress is similar to the Blacks struggle. Thus, what are we doing for others? Dr. King stated, “Use me God; show me what to do for a purpose greater than myself.
Mayor Martin Heines was the next speaker, and he started by hailing the new Black Fire Chief in Tyler. The new Fire Chief has a great reputation and character; moreover, he has spent his entire career as a fire fighter in Fort Worth, prior to coming here. It wasn’t some sort of equal opportunity promotion. Mayor Heines stressed that we have an ethical commitment for kids to get an education. Heines wants youngsters to stay in Tyler after they grow up. Heines finished by asking for more Black police officers.
Then we heard from State Senator Brian Hughes. Hughes began by noting the American values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We must expand the circle of liberty. Not only do we punish the evil-doers but honor those who do well. Hughes finished by complimenting the unique rendition by the earlier Texas College Choir of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” just before Mr. Khalifah’s talk. This hymn is called the National Black Anthem, and it’s a fixture at Kwanzaa meetings too.
Cathy Comer read a letter from U.S. Senator, John Cornyn. Senator Cornyn proclaimed that Dr. King and the rest of the Civil Rights Movement were people who dared to dream and stood up for what is right. They promoted unity over division and understanding over ignorance. Let’s serve our Fellow Americans and ask ourselves, “What can we do for others?” Through service, we’re able to understand others.
Next we heard Judith Taylor, the Unity Church Minister of Shreveport. Ms. Taylor asserted that we are the movement; don’t look for a leader to say something. We’re equipped to do whatever, such as deal with injustice. Then three local students made brief talks: Chrislyn Goss (future lawyer), Natalia Smith (future zookeeper), and Kinza Ashraf (future dentist).
Ms. Goss noted that Birmingham, Alabama was a highly segregated and mean city back in The Sixties. One had to be a “peaceful warrior” in the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Goss added that cops pushed and cursed Blacks, whether on in the city or in jail. Dog bit them too. The South will recognize its true heroes. Ms. Ashraf noted MLK’s disappointment with White moderates, who were willing to put up with injustice and make only gradual progress. She cited MLK’s observation that real peace is the presence of justice, not simply the absence of tension. It’s immoral to urge one not to get his constitutional rights. The silence of the good is appalling, for we are co-workers with God. That’s straight out of the process theology of Alfred North Whitehead! Racial injustice is like quicksand, but justice is a solid rock.
Then we had another performance by the Texas College Choir, and this song started with a piano solo. The choir members wore white T-shirts that either said “Divided by Section. United in Harmony,” or simply “1894,” the founding year of Texas College—Tyler’s oldest college.
Next, Kenneth Cobb gave an introduction for the keynote speaker. First, Mr. Cobb saluted the TTRRF, and he’s a member of this philanthropic organization dedicated to local racial unity. Mr. Cobb stated that MLK had written his Letter from the Birmingham Jail on newspaper and toilet paper. Then he stuck the now-historical document in his lawyer’s shirt pocket! MLK felt that he was failing in leading the movement at that time, but he made the commitment to move the agenda. Our ability to encourage is based on experience.
Kevin Belton, a New Orleans chef on PBS, delivered the keynote address, and he was informative and entertaining. Mr. Belton observed that MLK’s model was to keep calm. Mr. Belton reminisced about staying calm when he was a high school football player. He joked about the uneasiness of looking for an armed chair that he could sit in comfortably because he’s a bit pudgy. Mr. Belton cited a children’s book, The Skin I’m In, that asks us, “How would we know each other if we all looked alike?”
Mr. Belton suggested that we open a book and see how positive or negative we are compared to that person. He warned that your own group can sometimes treat you worse than those from other groups—quite a switch from the dominant theme of this event, but very likely. Your own group can treat you like crabs in a barrel! A crab that tries to get out of the barrel can get pulled back in buy the others. Mr. Belton admitted that as a child, he was sometimes beat up by other Black kids because he’s lighter than average (coffee-and-cream). Grandma made him walk straight up and not stutter. History is more than what one did to others or visa-versa. Do right when no one is looking!
Mr. Belton watched Julia Child as a kid. Mrs. Child wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking and had her show on PBS—a show I watched to help my Mom, an aspiring cook, who later was the president of two cooking circles at Catholic churches in Dallas and Tyler. Mr. Belton never dreamed he’d have a cooking show too, but he did it. I’m glad he reminded me of boudain, that delicious Cajun sausage with rice that I love, but have forgotten to buy lately. There’s a variety of flavors at Brookshire’s Grocery.
Mr. Belton concluded by proclaiming to be happy doing it, and nobody else can do it for us. http://www.focusinon.me/Events/11617-Tyler-Martin-Luther-King/i-zrfdWVj/A