Heroes Come in All Colors
By EuGene Lewis, Washington Conference regional ministries director and Emerald City Community SDA senior pastor
Black History Month has always been somewhat of a mixed bag for me. While I believe with all my heart it is a good thing to celebrate the accomplishments of our African American heroes, they deserve it and much more. It saddens me how we celebrate so few of them and so infrequently.
I love the Bible and the stories found within it. The Bible has always been my primary source for inspiration, growth, and soul searching. I recently ran across a well-known story in Genesis. Genesis 37:19,20, to be exact, the story of Joseph and his brothers. I believe it offers the first clue to the strong possibility as to why we celebrate so few African American heroes.
And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him. And they said one to another, 'Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.'
Black people are dreamers by nature. We’ve had to be since the first day the slave ships of Europe left the shores of Africa for the Caribbean Islands and the Americas. When you’re at the bottom of a boat or in a pit as Joseph was, you naturally dream of getting up and out!
The ills of slavery have had a tremendous negative effect upon the minds of African Americans, as it did upon each succeeding generation in the Joseph narrative. It wasn’t the people outside of Joseph's cultural identity that first tried to kill him. It was his own brothers. And so, the saga unfolds.
My mother is my hero, but I have four others: Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, and Malcolm X. I have a portrait of them in my home. Three of the four are sitting in chairs with smiles on their faces while former President Barack Obama is doing the same but he standing. I assume the artist painted him that way because the others are no longer living.
Heroes though they be, they each suffer a common and recognizable reality. The Joseph syndrome. It was a Sabbath afternoon in 1958, when a deranged black woman tried to take Martin Luther King’s life by stabbing him in the chest. Four days later he recalled receiving a letter from a 9th grade student that went like this:
While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy you didn’t sneeze.
I hope you notice the contrast. It was a young white girl at the height of the struggle who lifted him up while one of his own tried to take him down. Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama came close to being taken down by one of their own. Notwithstanding, Malcolm X lost his life at the hands of one of his own.
We cannot afford to destroy our leaders, present or future. The past is what is and cannot be changed. We have an opportunity to move beyond envy, greed, and small thinking to find proactive solutions that eliminate the Joseph syndrome and move us closer to goodness of heaven.
But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
Whether it be fighting for civil rights, dismantling apartheid, or combating the evils of racism, prejudice and white privilege, heroes save lives. And they come in all colors. I just wish we had more of them.