Day 6: Thursday, June 18 (by Kevin Villegas)

June 18th, 2015

This morning I awoke to a BBC breaking news alert on my phone that read “Nine killed in Charleston, S.C. church shooting.” My heart sank and I immediately recalled our group’s time just the evening before with Carolyn Maull McKinstry, survivor of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., and Lisa McNair, younger sister to Denise McNair, one of four children martyred in that same bombing.

I’ve spent the day trying to process both tragedies, individually and together. Most of what follows are a few scattered reflections of that processing.

It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that something like yesterday’s shootings still occurs more than 50 years after the Birmingham incident. In both events, a murderous act was methodically planned and carried out simply because of hate for other people based solely on the color of their skin. Yes, it’s more than likely that mental illness has a role to play, and that easy access to guns is an issue, but, clearly, the notion of race was the primary factor.

Indeed, this has been a remarkable year full of racially-charged events. To be on this civil rights bus tour during a time like this is astonishing. We are forgetting our history and thereby repeating it. A new movement is needed—a movement that is grounded in love and non-violent direct action. But to realize this fully, we must not fear. We must unite and work together to root out the very fear that exists in the minds of so many.

Whenever I’ve stared at the faces of certain white people captured in old photographs taken during the civil rights era (see the woman in the image below as example), I’ve found myself thinking: What are they afraid of?  After all, it’s fear that leads to hate. But we know that perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). Love is the only thing capable of combating fear and hate and violence. Those things can’t comprehend love, forgiveness and peace.


We must unite around love. Dr. King knew this. Not only did he know it, he taught it and he lived it. In his last sermon, preached the night before his assassination, Dr. King said,

We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon • April 3, 1968 • Memphis, Tenn.

All of us—no matter our skin tone, ethnicity, culture, nationality or religion—must come together and get out from underneath this oppressive slavery to violence. To do this, we must join hands and fight as one, coming powerfully against our violent oppressors in a spirit that is opposite of theirs. We must come united in love for one another.

In one museum on our trip I came across this Harriet Tubman quote: “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

The masses of the world—you and I—need to realize that we are one people; that we, having bought too easily into a long narrative of violence, have been enslaved for far too long. We must stop listening to this oppressive voice of the past that has kept us shackled and disoriented and instead begin to listen deeply to each other.

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon • April 3, 1968 • Memphis, Tenn.

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