Awakened to a Remembrance of Our Duty

I have been stunned and sickened by the events of the last few days. I have watched, along with millions of troubled fellow citizens, the rioting, lawlessness, violence, and destruction seen throughout our nation. Racial prejudice, class division, and corruption in high places have been topics which have weighed heavily on my mind. I have made several attempts to write blog posts on unrelated topics, only to come to a blockage in my flow of ideas. I needed time to process what was happening, listen and consider what was being said, what I was to understand by it, and what I was to do. Today, the ideas are flowing again and I would like to share with you what I have gained.

I have been awakened to a remembrance of my duty.

Our family has been lingering at the dinner table more often these days, caught up in long conversations about current events, the patterns of history, and what these events mean for us. One night this question came up. 

“What is my duty?” 

I asked every child to share their view of their duty to our family. Responses were somewhat varied, but all included the idea that each child should do what they were asked with a cheerful and loving heart. 

With great solemnity and love, I responded with tears in my eyes that, as nice as that sounds, it would not be enough.

We must learn to act for ourselves.

Our families are surrounded by an unraveling of the fabric of our society. I told my children that I, and our loving Father in Heaven, expected much more of them—that we are to prepare ourselves to be future leaders. What I expect from them is that they will perceive the problems in our home, and someday in our community and nation, and rise up to help solve them. They should do much more than just what they are told to do.

That mindset, doing only what is asked of us or what my husband calls “the bare minimums,” is what is allowing the unraveling to continue throughout our nation. 

Today I want to make a plea to my fellow American mothers to hold fast to the fabric of society. Do not let it unravel your family and those around you. Hold tight! You can do that by standing on something firm—the truth—and refusing to let go. 

Our most important duty as mothers is to educate ourselves and our families. Please do not rely on the media to teach you. Go directly to the pure sources of truth. Study the lives of great men and women from history and the treasures they have left for us from previous generations. Their words are dead on. They earned the right to have their voices heard and remembered.

Let’s hear what two black American statesmen have said regarding racial discrimination and the need for change. I hope that these quotes inspire you to read the sources in their entirety and to look for more.

Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery

Born a slave, Booker had no knowledge of his birthdate or ancestry. He gave himself the surname of Washington after our first president, George Washington. He suffered under the bondage of slavery as a child and, after slavery was abolished, found a path out of poverty and ignorance. Remarkably, he scraped and sacrificed to gain an education and eventually founded a college for black men and women, the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He was a key player in the reconstruction following the Civil War. His remarkable story of self-reliance and service have deeply touched and inspired me. 

Here is what he said about his hopes for black people in America:

“I think that the whole future of my race hinges on the question as to whether or not it can make itself of such indispensable value that the people in the town and the state where we reside will feel that our presence is necessary to the happiness and well-being of the community. No man who continues to add something to the material, intellectual, and moral well-being of the place in which he lives is long left without proper reward. This is the great human law which cannot be permanently nullified.”

I believe he would see our day and be pleased with the majority of black Americans and all the good they are contributing to our nation. Some of our finest black citizens have proven themselves in this way. To the rest, he would likely repeat this message.

To white Americans and especially the policeman under scrutiny right now:

“My experience has been that the time to test a true gentleman is to observe him when he is in contact with individuals of a race that is less fortunate than his own.”

To those of us born into privileged society:

“How often I have wanted to say to white students that they lift themselves up in proportion as they help to lift others.”

To those who want to redistribute the wealth in our nation or pit the poor against the rich:

“My experience in getting money for Tuskegee has taught me to have no patience with those people who are always condemning the rich because they are rich, and because they do not give more to objects of charity. In the first place, those who are guilty of such sweeping criticisms do not know how many people would be made poor, and how much suffering would result, if wealthy people were to part all at once with any large proportion of their wealth in a way to disorganize and cripple great business enterprises.”

For all Americans:

“One of the most vital questions that touch our American life is how to bring the strong, wealthy, and learned into helpful touch with the poorest, most ignorant, and humblest, and at the same time make one appreciate the vitalizing, strengthening influence of the other.”

If this could happen, what a strong nation we would have!

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Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Martin Luther King, Jr., a true martyr, made his life’s work about realizing the truth first penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” For hundreds of years this statement was not fully accepted in America. Yet, God was on the side of Dr. King and other leaders of the civil rights movement. His eloquent writing, powerful speeches, and peaceful demonstrations taught the world how to create social progress without violence. He showed us that civil disobedience could actually bring about a greater degree of justice and peace.

For those who have felt apathetic toward the racial divide in our nation:

“I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

Many of us feel uncomfortable with protesting and demonstrations. Here’s what Dr. King said: 

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

For all Americans who have not understood the history of black Americans and why they might still be angry today:

“For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied. We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

Dr. King and many others raised the level of citizenship for black Americans, but apparently the work is not finished. We need our families to be educated about our history and prepared to be the problem solvers in our nation. 

This past week I have learned of horrific acts of rage and destruction as well as astonishing acts of charity and kindness. I have heard about domestic terrorists wreaking havoc and death. But I have also learned of the courageous response of black and white Americans coming together in beautiful and unprecedented ways. I have seen men and women seek out knowledge and learn to see the world in a new paradigm.

What will your response be? How will you choose to act? 

My hope is that we will all awaken to a remembrance of our duty and confidently teach ourselves and our families from the best sources. I hope we transform our dinner time conversations to be deep and powerful catalysts for real change. I hope that we can hold fast to the fabric of our society, beginning in our own homes.

This is our duty as mothers.

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