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There must be lights burning brighter somewhere.

"Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world."

~ Dr. Martin Luther King 

This feels different. This recent flurry of news stories and protests feels different. It's bigger and it's genuine and it's not blowing over any time soon. 

Memphis has racial diversity with a dark past. It just is what it is and continues to influence our present and, undoubtedly, our future. Even as I write this, I am concerned about offense or being misunderstood myself.

As a student of history, I've studied slavery, the holocaust, the civil rights movement and beyond. I definitely don't consider myself a racist, but with transparency, I will say that I, like many white people in Memphis, don't understand the perspective of the black community. I don't understand what they were shouting at the protest. I don't understand why the bridge was blocked for so long. If I'm being honest, I don't understand exactly what the end goal is and I don't understand all the reasons why they are angry. 

But, I know it's real. 

I know because, even in the Memphis heat when there are a million other ways to be spending their time, they march and they stand and they pray. I know that, in spite of death threats, they demand to be heard. I know that they are organized and determined to effect change. That, I can understand because, in my own experience, I've often desired a mutiny against a status quo. 

The reality is some people are insensitive. Some people are scared of what they don't understand and, in all honesty, I count myself among them. Some people are scared for better reasons than mine. Some people are just evil in their hearts.

With the above in mind, I try to understand Blacks Lives Matter. I try to walk a mile in the shoes of those who've taken hold of this movement. 

I come closer to understanding when I see a black friend on social media describe how he is made to feel unwelcome and called the "N" word by congregants at a white church before they realized he was invited there as drummer for a popular Christian band. Truly, I was surprised to learn this.

I come closer to understanding when I hear a protest organizer speak frankly about his agenda which he's submitted to God. He claims he is willing to die for the vision and I believe him because I am a student of history. When I hear him say that he contacted every official in the city but was ignored, I come closer to understanding because we all know what closed doors look like from the outside. Still, I am taken by surprise at his passionate commitment to this movement. 

I come closer to understanding when I hear my one and only African American student last year describe his experience being pulled over in a car with his father who is accused of having stolen it. I come closer to understanding when I see the calm way in which he describes this but note the frustration he feels at the disconnect of his classmates. I understand he experiences a fear that I do not.

My white kids tried to understand. They really did. But, some still insisted that All Lives Matter because that is truth from their perspective. They are not wrong for that. We can only know what we know and, as all throughout history, wait for God to reveal the rest.

As a student of history, I watch MLK speak from Memphis, now 48 years ago. His Mountaintop speech/sermon was his last and most historians believe he knew it would be. He was assassinated in Memphis the very next day. And, y'all, he came here to give that now famous speech specifically to address working conditions of Memphis sanitation employees.  

Sanitation Workers' Strike; Memphis, 1968

But, this movement, started with a hashtag, is about something else altogether. Maybe, as a student of history, I will not be so quick to dismiss it but "to put the issue where it is supposed to be", as Martin Luther King suggested.

This IS happening in Memphis. It feels like something different. 

As a student of history, I want to be on the right side this time.


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