When I was the Chaplain at a college, I came across an organization that stresses that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day should not be a day off, but a day “on.” This organization organizes service projects all over the world for the Monday in January celebrated as MLK day. I put together a few service projects, but also wanted to do a worship service as part of the event and invited my good friend Dr. Yvette Massey to come to speak. (She is one of my favorite preachers in the world if you ever have the pleasure.) She showed up, took off her jacket (it was bitterly cold that day) and on her tshirt in big block letters it read, “I can’t breathe.”
The reference is to Eric Garner, who died in 2014. One of many in our country who die needlessly. Yvette spoke powerfully that day about our lives and responsibility because of Dr. King. And while it was nice to do service projects, she called us to keep doing the “real work” MLK started.
Sitting on my bookshelf is a book called “Begin Again,” by Eddie Glaude, Jr. It is an important book to me. It is a fascinating read to observe the life and writings of James Baldwin, and what we can continue to learn from him today. It is the title, though, that I look at a lot as it sits on my shelf. Whenever I feel like I’ve failed. Whenever I feel like I’ve come up short, or became despairing about the state of our world, particularly about racial justice, and want to give up (which is a particularly privileged way of being in the world), I look at that title and the penetrating eyes of James Baldwin. It is almost as if he knows we are going to run into these walls again and again, and he tells us, “Begin Again.”
That is what MLK Day is to me. It is not just a day “off.” It’s not even a day “on.” To me, it is a day of prayer and reflection when I hear God’s voice echoed by great preachers like Yvette and Dr. King said, “Begin Again.”