Monday, January 20, 2014


Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty

Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
image credit

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.

Today at the parade

~ James Weldon Johnson 


Every year I promise to have my act together enough to do something meaningful with my children on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And I suppose I haven't been too horrible over the years. I mean, we do sit down and watch "I Have a Dream" on YouTube and one year we even watched "The Drum Major Instinct"--although I'm sure that 99.9% flew over their heads. I always see the signs encouraging folks to make it a "day on" instead of a "day off." And that notion I can get with. Even if, on most years, I don't get with it personally.

Mmm hmmm.

So this year? Man, hush yo' mouth. I had my act together. Not only did we watch "I Have a Dream" AND "The Drum Major Instinct" -- we sat and talked about them, too. AND. (Mmm hmmm, there is an AND.) AND we actually made it a "day on."


We started the morning out early with an awesome service project at a nearby school. The kids cleaned up and packed bags of toiletries for those in need. And they had fun with other kids while doing it, too. Fortunately, we could rely on Dr. King to break up any brawls or rough-housing between this energetic bunch just by saying:

"HEY! Wasn't Dr. King all about PEACE? Take it down a notch!"

Which may or may not be exactly verbatim what I said when I peeled one child out of the headlock of another.

Ah hem.

So yeah. That was awesome. And after sharing pizza with all of the volunteers, we walked out side into a day that could not have been more spectacular. "We can't just go home," I said. And of course my boys groaned when I said that but I didn't care. I was determined to spend the majority of the day doing something other than watching the boys playing video games and watching Netflix.

And so. We headed downtown to join the Martin Luther King Day Parade. We surely did. Parked our car and strolled right down Peachtree Road with the masses. Yes, we were technically with a group from school but still. We went. I was so proud that I didn't talk myself out of it.

Admittedly, the kids were kind of grumpy about the whole thing at first. But by the time we finished and ended up at Ebenezer Baptist Church where both Martin Jr. and Martin Sr. once preached? The boys were in higher spirits. I know for sure that there are things my parents did with us when I was a kid that I didn't fully appreciate until I was older. I hope our "day on" tradition ends up counting as one of those things.

I'm in love with this picture of my boys from today.

Once we got home, I popped open my laptop and we watched the King speeches on YouTube. Now this part? They were riveted. No one was horsing around or any such thing. I think his voice just sort of grabs old and young alike. As tired as they were, too, they didn't even flinch when I asked them if they wanted to watch another video. So that's when I sprung "The Drum Major Instinct" on them. (That was the one that my dad made me listen to for a punishment as a 14 year old and subsequently write a 750 word essay about.) Poopdeck was a BEAST, I tell you.

Uhhh, yeah.

So that part was cool. It really was. I asked if they wanted to hear a cool song before we closed the computer and they obliged. And I guess I should first offer the disclaimer that I don't allow my kids any reckless YouTube-watching so the idea of ANY YouTube probably feels like the equivalent of drinking soda pop to them.


So the song I played for them was "Lift Every Voice and Sing" which most African Americans know as the "Negro National Anthem." I'm not even sure how old I was when I first heard it or learned it, but it seems like one of those things like The Lords Prayer or the Pledge of Allegiance that you just kind of know and can say without thinking about. So I played the traditional version of it followed by the Ray Charles version and the Roland Carter arrangement of it.

Oh! Wait. . . You mean you've never heard of the Roland Carter arrangement of "Lift Every Voice and Sing?" Well. CLEARLY this means that you:

a) Did not attend a historically black college or university,
b) You did but you never, ever went to chapel
c) You totally have heard this version but just didn't realize it until you heard it again.
d) You went to an HBCU but you thought that the Roland Carter arrangement was the only arrangement of the song.


Yeah. So this musician named Roland Carter remixed rearranged the song for a choir performance somewhere at some point. And I swear that it seems like every single concert choir at every single historically black college adopted his version. But rightfully so, man. Listening to it to the end gives you chills. Especially that mighty, mighty AAAAA-AAAAA-AAAA-AMEN that he decided to tack onto the end of it. (I think that was designed to wake us all up in chapel.)

Juuuust kidding.

So what else? Yeah. That's about it. After my King-a-palooza, I told them that they could do whatever they wanted to do. Which in my house means one thing and one thing only--video games. But that was cool.

The evening was punctuated with me going to a dinner at the home of Gunan G. from my Small Group Gamma. The group--our small group pictured above-- that all gathered to eat Gunan's mom's delicious homecooked Indian food could not have been more diverse. I looked around the room and smiled. I know that Dr. King would have been proud to see a room filled with future physicians (plus some grown up full-on professionals) of every hue laughing and talking together on the day his birthday is observed.

Yep. So our "day on" was awesome. It totally was. And you know what? I felt proud at the end of it.

And can I just say this? Today when I listened to Dr. King's booming voice speaking that famous speech over that crowd in Washington, I heard it differently. I interpreted it as really a longing for his children to have a better world. A lot of it wasn't even about him or something he'd get to enjoy in his lifetime.

And--if you ever listen to the sermon "I've Been to The Mountaintop" -- you'll know that he somehow seemed to know that his life would be abbreviated during this struggle. Yeah, he knew his days were numbered--which is really deep considering he kept on fighting even though he knew he was risking his own life. Oh? I didn't tell you? I was made to that one circa 1986 after smart-talking my mother one morning before school. Followed by 500 words on the meaning of that sermon, too. Regardless of how much homework from AP classes that I had. That's 500 words NOT including the words "the, and, or, or very." Which was very, very, very, very, very, very, very uncool of my very, very, very, very, very uncool father.

Mmm hmmmm.

Sure--like my boys, I groaned a lot about having to do all of that King-related stuff back then. But now? I appreciate those punishments more than words can say. I really, really, really, really, really, really, do. (He never said anything about "really.")

Happy Martin Luther King Day. Thank you--I really, really, really, really, really 'preciate y'all for reading. (How many words am I at?)

Just in case you had to work or you were like I have been in prior years, here's your dose of goodness for this day. I hope you take a moment to enjoy some it -- especially the parts you've never heard before.

First, the full lyrics to "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Deep is an understatement when it comes to this song. I think it's actually a song for everyone if you read the words. I like to think of it as a song for anyone who was once held down but is now on the edge of a breakthrough to something better.

Lift Every Voice and Sing
By James Weldon Johnson

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

        God of our weary years,
        God of our silent tears,
        Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
        Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light,
        Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
        Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
        Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
        Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
        May we forever stand.
        True to our God,
        True to our native land.


And now to bring you in on our YouTube-a-palooza. . . . .

"I Have a Dream" 

The first thing Zachary said after watching this video and seeing the crowd: 

"Wow, Mom. I didn't know it was so many white people on our side back then!" 

Isaiah said, "Yeah, he even gave them a shout out in the speech, too."

Me: 0_0

"The Drum Major Instinct" -- Best. Sermon. Ever. Still makes the hair stand on my neck.

Lift Every Voice and Sing, regular version

Lift Every Voice and Sing, Roland Carter version -- sung by the HBCU 105 voice choir at the Kennedy Center. This takes me back to college--our Tuskegee Golden Voices Choir used to ANNIHILATE this song. (Annihilate it in a GOOD way.) We'd all be in tears at the end every single time. I'm sure it was the same at your school if you attended an HBCU.

Lift Every Voice and Sing, Ray Charles version. I love his preamble with the shout out to Jeremiah and something being "shut up in his bones." Makes me think of the Grady elders--having joy "shut up in your bones" is one of those things you hear the "old saints" say. Ha ha ha.


  1. It is a true tribute to him that he is not only still remembered but celebrated and honored by so many.

  2. I took my que to pay homage to Dr. King from the B'nai B'rith, who volunteer to take shifts so that Christians can celebrate the birth of their Savior. I went to work so my co-workers were free to take the day off.

  3. So very cool. Our church had a very powerful tribute on Sunday. I had goose bumps. They played part of his, " I have been to the Mountain top" speech and you could hear a pin drop except for his voice, then thunderous applause, then our pastor got up and essentially dared everyone to live with that amount if courage. We didn't actually do anything on Monday because we studied him as lot in August on the 50_the anniversary, and my daughter had participated in the march then. I chickened out and sent her w friends. Being in the middle of a throng of people is like my biggest nightmare.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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