Guest speakers show words of Martin Luther King remain relevant today
The congregation of St. Anthony Parish in Lackawanna considered how far American has progressed since the days when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out on the equality of all people. They also realized how far we still need to travel to overcome all injustice in the world.
St. Anthony’s hosted the diocesan Martin Luther King Memorial Mass on Sunday, Jan. 17. This marked the first diocesan Mass of Bishop Michael W. Fisher, since his installation just two days earlier.
“Today, we celebrate the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America,” said Cheryl Calire, executive director of the Office of Pastoral Ministries/Office of Cultural Diversity, which sponsored the Mass. “We commemorate the timeless values that he had taught us through his example of unconditional love, forgiveness, nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.”
The Mass saw guest speakers show how the words of Dr. King remain relevant 53 years after the assassination of the civil rights activist.
Dr. Althea Porter, a member of the diocesan African-American Commission, read a portion of a speech King first delivered Feb. 4, 1968, entitled “The Drum Major Instinct,” inspired by the Gospel of Mark.
“If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he is the greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s the new definition of greatness,” Porter said. “This morning, the thing I like about it, by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everyone can be great, because everyone can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make you subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t need to know about Plato or Aristotle to serve. You don’t need to know Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second law of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love, and you can be the servant.”
In his welcoming, Bishop Fisher referenced that day’s reading by saying King, a Baptist minister, answered God’s call to be a prophet.
“In our readings, we see the call of Samuel to be a prophet of God,” the bishop said. “You see the call of some of the disciples to follow Jesus. We too are called to follow Jesus. We have that wonderful modern-day prophet in Dr. King who encourages us to serve, to serve for the dignity of every human person for their equality and for their good.”
Guest speaker Sister Roberta Fulton, SSMN, a longtime teacher and administrator who co-edited “Sustaining Catholic Education in and for the Black Community,” expand that notion by saying we are all called to be prophets. “As we heard in the readings today, we are messengers, we are only those who are called to try to help spread the Good News of the Gospel,” she said.
Sister Roberta borrowed from King’s speech of 1965 on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, entitled “How Long, Not Long.”
She spoke of the slave trade of 400 years ago, where Africans were crammed into the holds of ships and felt the beating of the waves as they crossed the Atlantic.
“Together they formed a forced community that crossed cultural and tribal lines. This passage was a horrific transition from personhood to property to non identity. The Africans, our ancestors, died to what was and could have been. They were connected in their homelands. They were people with an identity. But, as they came to America, they were reborn. And they were reborn as property. They were stripped of everything – status, identity – and removed from social structure. Yet, through it all we see wondrous, magnificent examples of valued heroes and sheroes. Too many for me to list. However, as we remember on this day Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, we are still asking how long? Not long.”
Porter pointed out that news stories on George Floyd and Breonna Taylor remind us that racism still exists, but quickly gets forgotten.
“We can’t sweep the past under the back porch. The way was hard. The way was long. The way was filled with pain. And yet, our ancestors kept lifting up their voices despite the grief, the fear, the anger, the frustration and the humiliation. They were anchored in the Lord. That’s why they could sing, ‘I feel nobody’s tired. I have come too far to turn around.’ We join them ion the march today. We stand up for justice and peace.”
The treatment of Blacks may seem to have improved since the days of King, but have really things just changed form. The separate but equal laws have been replaced by economic and educational disparity.
“Public hangings have ended and the murders of unarmed black people rise,” Sister Roberta pointed out, asking that we continue to speak to younger generations to let them know that they are part of the Civil Rights movement today.
Following the Mass, the Martin Luther King Scholarship was presented to Arsema Tedros, a 10th grader at Cardinal O’Hara High School where she excels in English honors, Spanish, religion and geometry. Established in 1986 by parishes in the Central City of Buffalo, the scholarship helps afford students of Catholic schools in the Central City to continue their education in Catholic High Schools.
The Albert Lenhard Scholarship, established in 1985 to assist Africans who want to further their education beyond high school, went to Christopher Glenn, an outstanding senior at Buffalo East High School from St. Martin de Porres Parish.
To honor Dr. King, Calire asked everyone to “Take one minute to think of one thing that you might do for one person that might make a difference in their day.”