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President's Blog: From the Heart

A Man for Our Times

By Eric F. Spina

When the Rev. Peter Matthews asked me to talk to people in the pews at McKinley United Methodist Church on the eve of MLK Day, I initially hesitated.

I thought, “What could a white man from the middle-class suburbs of Buffalo have to say that would resonate with a predominantly Black congregation?”

Even though I come from a place where only one of my elementary school classmates was Black, and I didn’t meet a single Jewish person until I was in high school, I’ve become a fervent believer in the value and power of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I believe that our hope for dismantling racism — and for creating a future where *all* of God’s children are treated with dignity — lies in education.

Particularly now. Nearly 55 years after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., bigotry and hate speech have entered the mainstream, and we’ve witnessed the increased visibility and acceptance of white supremacy. I told the congregation that we must stand together to respect differences and find a new language for talking about — and appreciating — our shared humanity. We must answer the voices of hate with love.

That’s also the message the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, delivered so much more eloquently at a sold-out Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast on campus.

“We know from the history books that Martin Luther King was a man for his times. What’s become clearer and clearer to me in the last few years is that we’ve seen a regression. He’s a man for our times and more relevant than ever,” the Dayton native said.

With a preacher’s rhythm and cadence, she both inspired and challenged the UD community at the breakfast and later at her UD Speaker Series talk. “We are a nation with a warring soul. We have yet to decide whether we are a nation defined by Martin Luther King’s dream or a nation defined by the lynching of Emmett Till,” she said. “Here, at a religious institution, we are not to be people with a warring soul.

“We must come here committed to be accountable to our very souls, which is the best of ourselves.”

Rev. Brown Douglas urged the campus community to treat all as children of God and speak up in the face of bigotry. She asked us to be “stone catchers” who intercept the stones of bigotry, hatred, disdain, and dehumanization that are thrown at others to belittle them.

“When they are throwing stones at another’s humanity, they are throwing stones at our humanity,” she said.

Two speeches. One message.  As we commemorate Dr. King’s legacy, we must stand together to radically spread love as the strongest way to overcome hate and divisiveness.

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