Stewardship: The conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care
When I was around seven years old, my family visited Memphis’ Lorraine Hotel, the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was an important stop on one of our bi-annual family vacations. During those trips we always visited Trenton, North Carolina, my dad’s hometown, and other places my parents believed to be significant historic sites on the way there and back.
I remember standing on the balcony outside room 306, the lights inside the room were never allowed to dim, the scene frozen in time as if still April 4, 1968. King had traveled to Memphis to support the city’s striking sanitation workers whose protests had been banned by court order after one such demonstration ended in a violent confrontation between the workers and the police. King hoped his presence and a planned march in that city would overturn the court injunction. He was gunned down before that protest could occur.
As a child, I didn’t fully understand King’s legacy. I knew he was an important person. I had listened to excerpts from some of his most famous speeches, including his last speech, the one he delivered just a day before his death where he appeared to be delivering his own eulogy: “We’ve got some difficult days ahead… But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…I may not get there with you. But I want you to know – that we as a people – will get to the promised land.”
I’m sure I had seen the images of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and I remember my mother reflecting on its significance during our own visit to Washington DC’s National Mall where hundreds of thousands of Americans of all races and religions had joined together to rally for human and civil rights and economic equality in 1963. In my home, my parents talked openly about the struggle for civil rights, what life was like growing-up in the south under Jim Crow, and the tremendous sacrifice Dr. King and so many others made to force America to live up to its promise of freedom and equality for all.
As children we understood we were expected to be stewards of Dr. King’s legacy. We were taught that his legacy was not bound by race. It belonged to everyone. His vision of equality and freedom for all was rooted in the very founding of our country. Sprung from the “wells of democracy,” King said in his final speech, “dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.”
Almost 20 years later, I made a similar pilgrimage with my husband Rickerby, our son Alexander, and my nephew James. We traveled not only to Trenton, North Carolina, but we stopped in Memphis and visited the Lorraine Hotel, which had already been transformed into the National Civil Rights Museum. Like my parents, we wanted our son and nephew to know that we must all be stewards of King’s legacy. And the multi-generational and multi-cultural celebrations commemorating King’s birth 47 years after his assassination on that Lorraine Hotel balcony, I believe, is an example that we are all stewards.
This King holiday weekend we witnessed a renewed interest in Dr. King and his practice of civil disobedience as hundreds of celebrations and demonstrations, not just here in the United States but across the globe, used the annual King holiday to draw attention to ongoing police brutality and continuing racial inequality by reclaiming King’s legacy. New activists of the #ReclaimMLK campaign called for King’s birthday to be “a time of national resistance to injustice.”
Yes, I know stewardship is more than just annual celebrations where someone recites King’s greatest speeches. It’s more than demonstrating in the streets or creating clever hashtag campaigns on social media. It’s more than just visiting one of the many King statues (we have two located here in the Inland Empire). And it is more than showing our children historical sites like our visits to the Lorraine Hotel. The proper stewardship of King’s legacy is pledging to resolve any injustices we encounter. It is to show unconditional love even in the face of ignorance and hate. And then it’s to remember and teach the next generation so they too can learn King’s philosophies and act to change the world.