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

Disputing Suicide Advocacy for the Sickly: A Model Essay in Developmental English Textbooks, by JD Meyer

“The Right to Die,” by Norman Cousins: Published by Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Cengage

Originally published by Joffre (JD) Meyer, Yahoo Contributor Network Nov 7, 2011. Voices.yahoo will end tomorrow; a footnote was added.

Wordsmith-a Developmental English/Writing textbook by Pamela Arlov at Pearson Higher Education-includes “The Right to Die,” by Norman Cousins as one of its model essays in the Argument (Persuasive)/Social Issues categories. This essay is about the suicide of Dr. Henry Van Dusen and his wife, Elizabeth. They had become increasingly feeble over the years and felt that their lives were being prolonged artificially beyond human dignity. Importantly, Dr. Van Dusen had been the president of Union Theological Seminary; he was a famous voice in American Protestant ethics for over a quarter century-hardly your typical case for suicide advocacy. The caption under the article’s title states, “Suicide is traditionally considered a tragedy, even a sin. Under certain circumstances, can it be considered a triumph over a slow and painful death?”

An Internet search shows how popular this article has become. McGraw-Hill offers the essay through Primis On-Line and Cornerstones. The Familiar Essay, by Mark R. Christensen includes “The Right to Die also through Cengage. Cyberessays reports that the states of Washington and Montana passed a Right to Die law in 2009.

Dr. Van Dusen left behind a brief note asking if the individual has the obligation to go on living when all beauty, meaning, and power of life are gone. Isn’t it a misuse of medical technology to keep the terminally ill alive when there are so many hungry mouths to feed? What if there’s nothing left to give or receive from life? Why should an unnatural form of living be considered better than an unnatural way of dying?

Exercising free will can mean suicide, according to Dr. Van Dusen. A call for the exercise of free will is quite common in philosophical and theological literature, and Dr. Van Dusen wrote on free will extensively during his career. Despair and pain weren’t given as reasons for The Van Dusens’ justifying of suicide.

Importantly, Norman Cousins admits that suicide is alien to the theological tradition of the Van Dusens, as it is in most cultures. However, no comment was made in this article about the kamikaze phase in World War II Japan or the current Islamic extremists. The Van Dusens regretted that their children and grandchildren may be saddened and not accept their decision. Yet Dr. Van Dusen believed that theologians and all of us should debate his case for suicide for the terminally sickly.

In concluding, Cousins asserts, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live. The unbearable tragedy is to live without dignity or sensitivity.”

My initial reaction to this essay was shock that assisted suicide for the sickly would be a topic in a Developmental English or College Composition course, as opposed to maybe an advanced medical ethics or philosophy course. I wouldn’t risk the appearance of trying to euthanize the grandparents of remedial students. Having a disability for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) myself makes me a bit squeamish when I hear a call for suicide of the chronically ill.

Once suicide is approved under these circumstances, the cases for acceptable suicide could become extended. What if one felt he or she was too poor to have a dignified existence? The extremely poor can earn as much as $1000/month. Maybe the chronically unemployed or those with a flawed background check could make a case for their own death too. An elderly neighbor feels that there are two unforgivable sins: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and suicide. Fortunately, the former seems like the most unlikely and esoteric possible form of swearing. My neighbor’s views are probably considerably more common than advocacy for suicide of the sickly.

On another note, adding mullein leaves (gordolobo) to my coffee pot this morning has helped my breathing far more than traditional medicine over the past week–including albuterol for my nebulizer, generic Mucinex, and prednisone. There were also some eucalyptus leaves and whole garlic pieces in that odd drip coffee bin, which had been ineffectual without the gordolobo. At least in Texas, you can buy a package of gordolobo or eucalyptus leaves for $1 each in the Mexican spice and herb section of the grocery store.

Later I stumbled upon a story about the later life of Norman Cousins (1915-1990) at http://www.happinessandlaughter.com/ Norman Cousins was the longtime editor of the Saturday Review and had received hundreds of wards, including the United Nations Peace Medal and nearly fifty honorary doctorate degrees. But in 1965, Cousins became very ill with ankylosing spondylitis, “a degenerative disease causing the breakdown of collagen.” It was believed that the writer would die within a few months, and he was almost completely paralyzed. But Cousins found a way to cure himself, not kill himself; he checked out of the hospital and started taking massive amounts of Vitamin C and watching funny movies! Cousins regained the use of his limbs and he returned to his full-time job at the Saturday Review. Cousins later wrote a book on his ordeal, Anatomy of an Illness in 1979. Thus Cousins chose life over suicide unlike Dr. Van Dusen. I’m glad that Earvin “Magic” Johnson chose life, as today is the twentieth anniversary of his announcement of retiring from pro basketball due to contracting the HIV virus.

Footnote: Originally, I wrote this article for Voices.yahoo, which is discontinuing its services as a citizen journalism website on July 31, 2014. At final count, my 38 articles gained 23,869 reads in roughly six years. This article represents revenge for being told never to disagree with anything in the textbook by a couple of short-lived bosses, as well as not to teach subject-verb agreement for indefinite plural pronouns (others, both, many, few, several) because Wordsmith omitted them. However, a few months before writing this article in early November 2011, I had sent an op-ed to a news station called, “Could Assisted Suicide Lower the Unemployment Rate?”
Fortunately, I changed my mind and have since gotten on Medicare & Medicaid–together with receiving housing assistance. Lately, I go to food banks instead of receiving Meals-on-Wheels. My Subject-Verb Agreement chapter section has received well over 9000 reads through Connexions of Rice University and my Academia.edu website. I’m a Twitter fanatic @bohemiotx with over 1400 followers and a member of two community organizations: East TX Human Needs Network (ETHNN)and the Community Health Worker (CHW) coalition…and hoping for a second career. I’ve never had more wonderful friends, and most of us see each other at Stanley’s Famous Bar-B-Q of Tyler–a regionally known place just two doors down from my apartment in the Hospital District, also known as Midtown.