It was 6:01pm and I sat in the balcony of the Knowles Chapel at Rollins College. At 6:01pm on April 4th 1968, Martin Luther King was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine motel. He was just 39 years old. Everyone assembled stood for a moment of silence. Muffled through the thick church walls, the sound of church bells chiming solemnly filled the air. It was a quiet contemplative moment to honor someone who helped change millions of lives. We were reminded that although we might have come far, we have not reached the promised land. Rollins students gathered before the audience and sang, Lift every Voice and Sing, which is considered the black national anthem. I honestly had never heard this song before but by the end I was singing along with them. King dreamed of a world united, where everyone was engaged not as spectators but as active citizens fighting any injustice. As Baha'u'llah said, "So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth."
Several speakers mentioned that King was a man with many doubts. When he first demonstrated for human rights he was just 28 years old. He felt he had to step up. It was work that needed and if he didn't do it, who would? It was precisely his self doubt and human frailty that made his accomplishments so astounding. The key note speaker, Nadine Smith, pointed to the continuing struggle to fight for the rights of gay lesbian and trans-gender members of our society today. She spoke about an incident when she was a student when several gay men were beaten by military personal at a public event. She in the back of her mind thought, that is terrible, but these things happen. The military claimed the men were behaving inappropriately in a way that threatened family values. Family's who saw the beatings however stood up and stated that the only objectionable actions were on the part of the officers. At the public demonstration that followed Nadine saw straight and gay people arm in arm with their voices united in song. That moment changed her life. She suddenly realized she could no longer accept injustice as a fact of life. She needed to take action.
Maya Angelou said, ""When you learn, teach. When you get, give." The message of giving back as a concerned and active citizen was returned to again and again. In fact an individuals constant striving to improve the world does make a difference. The shooting in Tuscon Arizona helped people realize they should speak with some level of civility. Yet what politician ever mentions love? Martin Luther King did believe and speak of loving one another. Soon everyone in the chapel was singing, "We shall Overcome." The last time I had heard this song was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. being sung by people who had just been made citizens of the United States. My heart filled with hope and joy then, as it did in this gorgeous chapel.
As Reverend Patrick Powers read Dr. King's "I have a Dream" speech, everyone exited the church where they were given candles for a silent vigil. Soon I was the only person left inside listening to Kings resounding words. The moment felt important. Perhaps someday the dream will be made real.