One thing that I have learned from watching the recovery efforts from the several natural disasters that have been visited upon Houston, Florida, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other Caribbean Islands, is the value of making a contribution. In 1968 in Mexico City a raised clinched fist signal a protest of the treatment of Black people in the United States. In 2017 a raised clinched fist in Mexico City commanded silence from surrounding crowds in order to give rescuers the chance to listen for any cry for help emanating from the ruble of the earthquake.
Case upon case of water stacks up in a church parking lot. A long line of parishioners forms in order to bring more items. Some come with an arm full, some come only one item in their hand. Regardless of the amount that each person has to give, the intent is the same. They want to make a contribution. They may not be able to go to Mexico and form a human conveyor belt to remove ruble one brick at a time; however, they can deliver loaf of bread that may help someone make a sandwich for dinner.
Truth, somehow, finds a way revealing itself in myriad and unplanned ways. Matthew 25:40 admonishes us to good unto the lease of these. All too often efforts are made to curry favor with those in power while at the same time ignoring the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves. The same can be applied to the level of a contribution. Dr. King once stated, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” On the Washington Mall there stands a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King also has a national holiday in his honor. Almost everyone knows about his “I Have a Dream” speech. Yet, we still have segregation and racial animus. White police officers still kill unarmed Black citizens with impunity. Nevertheless, we honor Dr. King for his contribution to the struggle. He literally gave his life for the struggle.
There are no monuments or national holidays in honor of Fannie Lou Hamer. She did not even have much of a formal education. Nevertheless, a quote that is attributed to her has endured and informed generations of protesters. Fannie Lou Hamer said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” In Mark 12:43-44 Jesus tells the parable of the poor woman who gave all she had compared to those who gave out of the abundance of their wealth. It was much easier for the wealthy to make a contribution based on their wealth. However, the poor woman’s contribution was actually a sacrifice. Luke 12:48 says, “From everyone who has been given much, will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” It is ironic how truth intersects at different intervals and in different venues. Karl Marx wrote “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Herein lies a type of logic that finds a way to honor and accept all contributions.
Never shy away from making a contribution. No matter how large or small, a contribution enable the whole to function and be successful. Not everyone can be a Thurgood Marshall, Shirley Chisholm, Malcolm X, Barbara Jordan, Adam Clayton Powell, Vernon Jordan, and Alicia Garza.
Carter G. Woodson gave us the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He also gave us Black History Month and taught us the importance of history. Dr. Woodson made a lasting contribution. In a southern seminary extension school, I sat in a class taught by Rev. Lewis. I recall his disheveled demeanor. I recall his overly stretched socks sagging around his ashy ankles. But what I recall most is the way he taught his class. I remember one night in particular when he was looking even more disheveled than usual. His ankles were exposed by sagging sox and seemed as ashy as ever. But when he slammed his hand on his thigh and place his head face down on the desk only rising to exclaim, “In the final analysis, what am I saying? Nobody loved me like my mother!” That night, Rev. Lewis made a contribution.
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he will publish a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”