'Our Children Are Waiting for the Music'

My dear brother, nephew, son, and president,

I have given you (and me) so many choices of identity as a means of describing the varied ways in which I feel myself closely related to you. Because I (beginning in Harlem, rather than Hawaii) was also the son of a single, divorced mother, a woman who, like your own mother, was a great source of loving guidance and encouragement, I feel that brotherly connection. Because I am almost exactly 30 years older than you, and have a son and daughter close to your age, it is easy for me to see you as my adopted child, my nephew, my beloved one.

When our fellow world-citizens of the Nobel Peace Prize committee awarded you the Nobel, they recognized in you the promise of life, not death. What they also realized, and what you surely know—and what dear brother Martin King lived with—was the recognition that the choice of life in a culture of death and revenge will often be a solitary and dangerous path. But in your memoir Dreams from My Father, you describe hearing a magnificent ancestor when you listened to the depths of our sister Billie Holiday, and you responded to Lady Day with these profound and loving words: “Beneath the layers of hurt, beneath the ragged laughter, I heard a willingness to endure. Endure—and make music that wasn’t there before.”

And with these words you identified your own vocation, a sacred calling drawn out of the cauldron of our long history: to endure while creating music out of pain, music that did not exist before, music that carries a balm of healing for this wounded nation, hope for this endangered planet. America needs you to endure, to take bold, visionary risks on behalf of life.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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