MLK Jr. Day Remarks fROM Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, BRIDGE CEO and Founder
Thank you for gathering for this service here today and I am grateful for the sisterhood (& brotherhood) and partnership with Macedonia Baptist Church. As we looked at how we wanted to celebrate Dr. King today, peace justice and this concept of order resonated.
When I focus on global peace and my own peace, I think the term “peace” requires discernment and a search for clarity. Peace is beyond a ceasefire and is well beyond evading conflicts or considering peace broken or disrupted when truth is told or when questions are asked. That truth — however ugly, messy, hard or unclear— is where peace begins. Dr. King said it so well in a sermon that I will share from. Listen and note — While he speaks to his connection to God and Jesus as his guide, you listen and think about who is sacred to you, who holds you and guides you. What holds you accountable? Is it your faith, your God, your family, the next generations of children and families to occupy this planet? What is your North Star?
A day before he was sentenced to 386 days of prison with a $500 fine for his activism (which ultimately was appealed and overruled by Kings attorney), Dr. King presented this sermon, "When Peace is Obnoxious," at Dexter Baptist Church.
His words were published and paraphrased by Alpha Phi Alpha national President and Fraternity brother Stanley. Stanly wrote He, Dr King, had recently engaged in a long talk the other day with a man about this bus situation. He discussed the peace being destroyed in the community, the destroying of good race relations. I agreed that there is more tension now. But peace is not merely an absence of this tension, but the presence of justice. And even if we didn’t have this tension, we still wouldn’t have positive peace. Dr. King continued:
“Yes it is true that if the Negro accepts his place, accepts exploitation, and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be an obnoxious peace. It would be a peace that boiled down to stagnant complacency, deadening passivity and:
I was with a friend, colleague, ally and partner in our mutual aid Solidarity project this week presenting our collaborative heartwork and she said we (white peoples or privileged peoples) are taught to understand doing good (this good Dr. King speaks about) is hard and painful but she insisted the path of good and doing good is our path to joy and I would argue that is the authentic, positive peace Dr. King stood for and spoke to at Dexter Baptist Church . Her words resonated because over the years I have witnessed her allyship to me, to her values, to the Black community and it requires work, giving up material things, discomfort, relationships falling away, asking hard questions of those closest to her but again finding her joy, newly aligned relationships, seeing the positive impact on strangers in our community and knowing lives are changing for the better, creating a better world with more joy than what money can buy for her children and mine…and for all of the next generations to come.
This is a truth that is real in my day to day, work that is alive and vibrant among us that touches many of our lives and if not ours directly—our neighbors’ lives. Many of you here today support this work and some will be giving a helping hand later today in the vision of Dr King day… serving our community.
Justice work is not and can never hold complacency and silence, it cannot be about ease and comfort; it cannot be about ego and righteousness. Justice work is about seeing, listening. Doing. Repairing.
In my view, Justice work cannot be perfect and organized. I believe white supremacy and its systems are meticulously organized to stand for centuries and critique and challenge any threat to it and characterize the disruption as “disorderly” or “not correct/right”. I believe justice requires some chaos and disruption in a disordered fashion to truly dismantle racism and systems that perpetuate poverty and oppression in order to transform our path to a more just and equitable way. That does not mean a lack of goals, motivation, or coordination but progress does require an unpredictable, disobedient disorder with an arc towards justice. This civil disobedience, as it were, disallows gatekeeping. Gatekeeping is an active form of white supremacy that operates even in our home county today… gate keeping is something me and my organization have to fight everyday for the empowerment of our community. This disorder and disruption invites innovation, transformation, and ultimately saves more lives in the collective movement towards justice and equity.
We cannot see our brothers and sisters, our neighbors new or old as taking away from us. See them as value added to our lives with a lesson to bring to us. See them as mirror reflections of who we are and who we are in trusted, true relationships with—and not. Use the new relationships as windows in to old and new dynamics and attachments. Ask, what needs to shift? And what can and will I do about that?
Change cannot happen without disruption and agitation. Change has to hold love at its center… the Love for oneself, one’s community and for the planet we live on and that love has to include the humanity and well-being of others. Otherwise, there is an aperture for hate, distrust and none of us can afford that in our community. Justice is what love looks like in public is a favorite saying of mine by Cornel West. They are one in the same. Justice and love. And that work can lead us to joy and peace.
Today we honor Dr. King’s work and Dr. Du Bois by raising the banners in Great Barrington of Dr. Du Bois. I encourage you to read Dr. King’s entire speech at Carnegie Hall that uplifts the legacy of Dr. Du Bois.
As we landed on this theme of peace, justice and activism thinking of all of the genocides and the decades long cry of the Palestinians uplifted by Black Feminists who I so admire and use as my guides, I wanted to hear from those voices who surrounded and supported Dr. King. I found this amazing piece by Coretta Scott King and like almost all work of the Civil Rights movement’s work, the words are evergreen. I will end with her words.
Coretta Scott King Reflects on Working Toward Peace:
"As we begin the twenty-first century, I think it is important that people of every race, religion, and nation join together to develop a shared vision of a world united in justice, peace, and harmony.
This work can feel immense but we can do it. We start at home and then follow our networks. We are all connected. This global beloved community.
This is a very special year for Macedonia Baptist Church… 80 years. Please join in the preparation and celebration of this historical church.
Thank you so much for coming and thank you again Rev Forte and Conway and the Macedonia Choir and congregation for today and all the days before and in our future together. We will take up a collection today and proceeds will be split between BRIDGE Solidarity Projects and the Macedonia Anniversary Fund.
It is my pleasure to call up Rev. Carol Allman-Morton of Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South Berkshire and following that I will call Leigh Davis to begin our community reflection on peace, justice and activism and the legacy of Dr. King. Leigh Davis is daughter of chief architect of Martin Luther King Day as invited by Corretta Scott King, Vice Chair of Great Barrington Selectboard and Liaison of the Du Bois Legacy Committee.
- Gwendolyn VanSant, CEO and Founding Director of BRIDGE and Town of Great Barrington Vice Chair of Du Bois Legacy Committee, January 15, 2024
Multicultural BRIDGE helps to improve the lives of community members throughout the Berkshires, and provides consultation and training to groups and businesses across the state and throughout the country.