Two Wake Forest University sociology professors say that poverty and inequality are still alive and well in the deep South.

Angela Hattery and Earl Smith have just completed a study, Social Stratification in the New/Old South, that looks at U.S. Census data from counties in Mississippi and Alabama. They examined how poverty and other measures of well-being differ between counties depending on the race of the people who live there.

The study was inspired by a course that Hattery and Smith teach together that takes students from local universities on a tour of Southern states. The tour goes through major historical civil rights sites while letting the professors and students see what modern life is like in the deep South.

Continued in The Chronicle  (Click on article on front page) 

When we enter into solitude to be with God alone, we quickly discover how dependent we are. Without the many distractions of our daily lives, we feel anxious and tense. When nobody speaks to us, calls on us, or needs our help, we start feeling like nobodies. Then we begin wondering whether we are useful, valuable, and significant. Our tendency is to leave this fearful solitude quickly and get busy again to reassure ourselves that we are “somebodies.” But that is a temptation, because what makes us somebodies is not other people’s responses to us but God’s eternal love for us.

To claim the truth of ourselves we have to cling to our God in solitude as to the One who makes us who we are.

Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life. Solitude, silence, quiet, ordinary tasks, being with people without great agendas, sleeping, eating, working, playing — all of that without being different from others, that is the life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us to live. It is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase “in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:51). It is in hiddenness that we can find a true intimacy with God and a true love for people.

Even during his active ministry, Jesus continued to return to hidden places to be with God alone. If we don’t have a hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear fruit.

To become neighbours is to bridge the gap between people. As long as there is distance between us and we cannot look in each other’s eyes, all sorts of false ideas and images arise. We give them names, make jokes about them, cover them with our prejudices, and avoid direct contact. We think of them as enemies. We forget that they love as we love, care for their children as we care for ours, become sick and die as we do. We forget that they are our brothers and sisters and treat them as objects that can be destroyed at will.

Only when we have the courage to cross the street and look in one another’s eyes can we see there that we are children of the same God and members of the same human family.

Now, thanks to Didi Menendez, you can.

To hear me read my poem, “In Praise of Darkness,” go to miporadio’s The Goodnight Show, scroll down, and click on Helen Losse.

Also, up today, Sherry Chandler, on my essay “Who’s a Poet Anyhow?” 

A poem, "Just Before the Dawning," from my current project, Windows Toward the World, has been publsihed in the summer issue of JMWW.

By 1:05 we had eaten lunch, and the Pre-Race Show was over.  Time to curl up for a cozy afternoon watching 500 miles of top-notch Cup racing—not much else to do Sunday afternoon.  We hoped to see Stewart take the win and cut Johnson’s lead in the point standings.  I was feeling congested—sinus troubles, I guess—so I had taken a  decongestant to relieve my headache, antihistamine for my itching nose.  After a country star destroyed the national anthem, and a man in the infield applied suntan lotion to the bronze hips of a woman in a halter top, the drivers kissed their wives and climbed into their cars.  Spotters and officials took their places, and the customary “Gentlemen, start your engines” faded into a general roar—a combination of cheers, whistles, and revving engines.

Following a few laps to warm the tires, the pace car slipped down pit road.  As the green flag waved, all 43 cars made a clean start.  An in-car camera showed Harvick at 185 on the straight stretches, slower of course in the turns, speeding around the mile-and-a-half oval track, tornado-like—car and driver vibrating together.  Enveloped in the warmth of my afghan like a driver in his cockpit and lulled by the constant motion and hum of the engines, I leaned my head against my husband’s shoulder to relax.  Benny Parsons reminded his television audience, once again, that the RACE FOR THE CHASE was on..

On lap 80 a blown tire caused a huge wreck and sent six cars to the garage.  Junior was pissed but held his tongue.  Ten laps  later and there’s oil on the track.  Another caution.  More commercials.   A close-up view of the cut-away car, when they go green.

—————–

            “What’s all that water, anyway?”

            “They’re stoppin’ the cars.”

            “Gimme some more chicken, Daddy,” says a boy sitting nearby, jerking out the cooler jammed under his seat in the Pontiac Section at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, only to find he’d already eaten everything but the bones.  He settles for a ham biscuit.

            “Can’t you see what’s goin’ on, Bill?” I yell.

            “They’re not strong enough.  I wish I brought the good ones.”  Bill lets his binoculars dangle around his neck.

Someone shouts that a water main has broken.  Although the sky is mostly overcast, a glare—as well as the distance—prevents us from seeing what the problem is. After coming to a stop, drivers climb from their cars onto the track.  Kurt Busch, last year’s champion, tussles with Gordon.  No one can see their facial expressions—only their shadows, boxing.

“Smack ’im.  Smack ’im good,” comes from my left, but no one smacks anyone.

            “Sure a lot of water.”

            Each fan has, in theory, his or her own space—little as it may be—at the race track, yet clustered together, we move as a unit, craning our necks in search of meaning, while the shrill scent of motor oil coats the dusty grandstand.  In front of me, a man clambers onto his seat to get a better look.. That means we can’t see at all.  His foot inadvertently swipes an open beer can, which I upright to prevent its entire contents from dumping onto my feet.

            “What’re they doing?’

            “Shuttin’ it off.”

“Closing the bathrooms!”

My bladder—unaware of the rumor’s lack of validity—suddenly fills to its capacity. 120,000 fans scream simultaneously, while the track announcer remains silent. It’s noisier with the engines off than it was while the cars were racing.  The former, deafening but mesmerizing,  is replaced by a boisterous and constant pandemonium, punctuated with sudden overpowering shrieks at irregular intervals. A pit-road reporter  fumbles a microphone, recovers.  We see him and know what the drivers will say in their interviews, because that’s as predictable as who’ll name the most sponsors.  A few fans, wearing headsets, relay news from the radio broadcast:  “They” are trying to find the problem, so “they” can “go racing.”  Folks at home know more than we do.

“What time is it, anyhow?”

The water appears to be slowing.  Although a few people migrate toward the concession stands, most remain to watch as track workers hoist blowers from the beds of pick-up trucks to dry the track.  Others sweep the water toward a grassy area using over-sized push brooms.   Drivers mull about, take off their helmets.   Mark Martin eats.

            ———-

The water was cleared.  And a general cheer rose from the television speaker, as the crowd came to its feet, anticipating the restart.   My arm, asleep beneath my husband’s back, refused to wake up.  Drivers walked toward their cars.  Crew chiefs climbed to the tops of the boxes.  Then engines droned; exhaust billowed.  No one heard the kids yell into the pungent air.  A cameraman zoomed his lens into the crowd to check out a woman’s breasts.   I heard the announcer’s laughter as I shifted to a more comfortable position and reached for a pillow.  My headache was gone.

When Michael Waltrip hit the wall in turn three, only twelve cars remained on the lead lap.  The flag man threw the yellow, and the instant replay simulated the crash from every angle.  I tagged along for the ride. Spinning, around and around—whirling like a dervish on the wide-screen tv.

I knew the race would end with a green-white-checker.

“The stages of history are replete with the chants and choruses of the conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace. . . .  So when in this day I see the leaders of nations again talking peace while preparing for war, I take fearful pause. . . .  Before it is too late, we must narrow the gaping chasm between our proclamations of peace and our lowly deeds which precipitate and perpetuate war. . .  One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.  We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.  How much longer must we play at deadly war games before we heed the plaintive pleas of the unnumbered dead and maimed of past wars?” 

Martin Luther King Jr.  Where Do we Go from Here:  Chaos or Community?  (1967)  pp.182 – 83.

Have you ever noticed that writers seem to say the same things over and over again? When we read the works of a given author over a period of time, we often hear the same ideas repeatedly, with updated details, but only slight variations in theme. Since I’ve begun to write on a more regular basis, I’ve experienced this phenomenon from the other side, too. Yes, I often feel as though I’m being redundant in my essays.

I believe there are several reasons for this occurrence. On one hand, I believe there is truth in the statement: “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Writers (and other people who express their thoughts in a multitude of ways) attempt to cloak ideas in original details and fresh linguistic dialogue, but we all know that what we are really doing is regrouping concepts that have been expressed previously.

Although I believe that we must acknowledge the debt that we truly owe to those who came before us, we need not feel any guilt in restatement because ideas that contain meaning and power are worth frequent examination. It is in the redefinition, in the re-examination, and in the re-expression of concepts that we verify their validity. Paraphrase leads to ownership for it is a tool for the mastery and embracement of ideas. Most writers wish to write convincingly, yet we know that we must convince ourselves above all others. Seldom do any of us hear a concept and embrace it with fierce conviction immediately. The integration of concept and being comes with familiarity.

As I began to put the finishing touches on my semester’s project—a paper examining the themes and delivery style of the sermons of Martin Luther King Jr.—I found that I had discovered a few wonderful tidbits that I hadn’t included in my paper. One of these hit home so squarely that I felt an intense desire to share it.

As many scholars who have (or are currently) studying the works (and the life) of King have stated much more eloquently than I can do, King’s life and his philosophy (ideas) were in agreement. King’s life, with a few rare incidents as the exception, was a full-time expression of his values. Thus, as he spoke, he always presented the same message. True, he altered his delivery style, and he chose his words differently for his varying audiences. But King had one idea—we have labeled it “the dream”—and he repeated it again and again because he thought it was worth restating until not only he, but the rest of us embraced it.

In his works—his speeches, sermons, and writings—King examined the meaning of life. His interpretation (and his understanding of life’s meaning) found its expression amid the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Thus, the details that King used to express his ideas were relevant specifically to that period of American history. Yet I feel that they speak to us today also.

Included in a tiny volume called The Measure of a Man is an essay entitled “The Dimensions of a Complete Life.” Here King addressed the responsibility that each of us has an individual member of society. King wrote:

“. . . every individual has a responsibility to be concerned about himself enough to discover what he is made for. After he discovers his calling he should set out to do it with all of the strength and power of his being. He should do it as if God Almighty had called him at this particular moment in history to do it.”

King spoke to my heart here, as he did in so many of his works—especially his sermons—that I have examined over the past weeks for surely I know what I have been called to do (although I must admit that sometimes I have no clue as to the form that it will take over the years.) I feel no guilt in my repetition of either thoughts or words as I realize what good company I keep. If Martin Luther King Jr. could speak again and again to the conscience of America in a myriad of expressions of his love-engendered hope, I feel that I can also risk sounding like a person who has but one thing to say.

It is foolishness to believe that in matters so vastly important and so complex as the state of race relations in our nation that white Americans can grasp concepts and ideas (that African Americans have been speaking and writing about for centuries) the first time we encounter them. We must hear them repeatedly, and we must examine them thoroughly. Then we must hear them spoken from our own lips, regardless of how awkwardly they come forth. (It is for this reason that dialogue is important.) The more frequently we voice our convictions, the more we become convinced of their truth and worth. And the more familiar we become with these ideas, the more we can endeavor to integrate them into our beings. Only then will we be able to live lives that show forth our desire for justice and acceptance (of others) convincingly.

As I write I hope, not only to convince others that the battle against racism in (white) American life will be arduous and long, (yet its eradication will free us all from restraints that have become so ingrained in our society that we fail to notice them and sometimes even emphatically deny their existence), but to convince myself, too, that my life and my commitment to these ideas must become so integrated that I can scarcely distinguish one from the other. I speak so that I might truly accept my personal responsibility—my “calling” according to Martin Luther King Jr.—so that I might truly live the life for which I was born.

first publsihed in The Chronicle (formerly The Winston-Salem Chronicle)

After writing this essay and studying King further in preparation for my thesis, I realized that King modified his "dream" greatly from the widely accepted form spoken at the 1963 March on Washington. In 1967, King took a bold stand against the Vietnam War and identified the Triple Evils from which America must rid herself.

Fundamental tenets of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence described in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom.

 

  1. Nonviolence is not passive, but requires courage.
  2. Nonviolence seeks reconciliation, not defeat of an adversary.
  3. Nonviolent action is directed at eliminating evil, not destroying an evil-doer.
  4. A willingness to accept suffering for the cause, if necessary, but never to inflict it.
  5. A rejection of hatred, animosity or violence of the spirit, as well as refusal to commit physical violence.
  6. Faith that justice will prevail.
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