In my home I don’t display things unless they matter to me. You’d be hard pressed to walk into my house and find random artwork from Etsy, the Pottery Barn, or from Barneby’s, as far as that goes (assuming, of course, that I could afford to purchase something from Barneby’s). For this reason, I probably wouldn’t be a good candidate for one of those HGTV shows where the hosts come in and make over people’s homes. While I might appreciate someone like the Property Brothers making my kitchen bigger, the random stuff hanging on the wall intended to make my kitchen prettier would have to go. Why? Because I don’t do cute for the sake of cute. In my mind, our homes are sacred spaces and should reflect who we are and what’s most important to us.
When my older daughter was about three years old, she drew a picture that came to be known as Easter Girl (Don’t ask me why we started calling it that. That was almost three decades ago. I don’t remember.) I remember my baby worked hard on that drawing and was so proud of her little self when she presented it to me. I still have Easter Girl to this day and would display Easter Girl in my home before anything Barneby’s has to offer because Easter Girl matters to me.
I follow the same philosophy when it comes to displaying things in my office. When I started working at CSS and making my office my space, one of the first things I did was to remove the stuff from the walls. For months, my walls were barren, not because I couldn’t put anything on them but because I wouldn’t put anything on them. After sitting in my new space for a while and figuring out my role there, I finally put something up. It hangs on my wall directly in front of my desk so that I see it every day as I do what I’ve been called to do. It’s a plain white canvas with plain black letters that simply reads, “CHANGE ALWAYS DEMANDS COURAGE.”
After being jailed for the umpteenth time, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received a letter while he and the demonstrators who’d been arrested with him were imprisoned in a Birmingham jail. The letter was penned by eight white clergymen who criticized Dr. King regarding his approach to civil rights. While the white ministers agreed with Dr. King as it pertains to the existence of social injustice, in their letter, the ministers admonished Dr. King as a rebel rouser and advised him to abandon his current course and to take up the matter of civil rights in the courts rather than on the streets. Dr. King’s response to the criticism from his fellow clergymen is nothing if not the exemplar of grace and courage. I would do a disservice to attempt to summarize Dr. King’s reply. I strongly urge you to take a few minutes to read it yourself by following this link: Letter from a Birmingham Jail. What impresses me about Dr. King is that after being arrested in Birmingham, he went on to be arrested again and again, standing for what he knew to be right.
What history has shown time and time again is that whenever we seek change, we will inevitably offend those who fiercely defend the status quo. William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, Fred Hampton, Tarana Burke, Patrisse Cullor, and so many more courageous instruments of change can attest to that. The question then becomes, “Then what?” Once the keepers of “what-has-always been” voice their disapproval at any and all attempts to change what they deem as proper and right, regardless of how it impedes the ability of others to live whole lives, then what? Do we simply acquiesce to their disapproval or do we stand for what we know to be right, even when our stand is met with a show of force meant to bring us to our knees? Sadly, all too many opt to acquiesce and then craft these amazing narratives to justify what boils down to cowardice.
History records that on the day that Dr. King and the other demonstrators were arrested in Birmingham, thousands of onlookers—both black and white—dressed for Good Friday, simply looked on, resigned not to get involved in the messy business of social change. On that day in 1963, the resolute and the resigned met on the same street corner and chose their paths according to their convictions. The resigned acknowledged the unpleasantness of injustice but either accepting the lie that there was nothing they could do about it or not willing to risk their jobs, their status, their [fill in the blank], looked on or, worse yet, looked away. The resolute, on the other hand, set their faces like flint, called wrong wrong and marched into the fiery furnace, willingly accepting whatever consequences came their way. Why? Because the resolute understand that CHANGE ALWAYS DEMANDS COURAGE.
Each day each of us decides which side of the street we’ll stand on. Each day we decide whether we will stand with the resigned or with the resolute? We choose. History records.