My parents were amazing parents. They were constant examples of virtue, authenticity, faith in action, the value of hard work and sacrifice, and ever so much more. We grew up in MN. Why does that matter? Clean politics was the order of the day in MN. Getting involved in the process was a high virtue in my family. That meant joining a group to help change come about. That meant living this belief “all that is necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to stand by and do nothing”.
The summer that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech at the Washington Mall, my dad was in Washington DC to testify at the ICC. He was there at the speech and witnessed the huge crowd. When he returned to MN a few days later he told us about the speech and the crowd. He said to us (all choked up) “the world is about to change. I have never seen anything like that. Mark my words. Things will change”. He was right, of course. I have never forgotten what (and how) he said.
My parents were involved–in our lives, in their own lives, and in the world around them. They were big believers in, for instance, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Our senator at the time, Hubert Humphrey, had been working for civil rights since the late 1940s. There was no question in their minds that Civil Rights was just the starting point!
We were an active family—and swam and boated in season. How could we not? We had tons of lakes and the Mississippi River at our disposal. We moved to Chicago when I was partway through high school. Although Lake Michigan was there, it was “too much lake” for our little boat. So my parents searched for summer time activities. Most of the swimming pools in the area were at private country clubs. My dad wasn’t a golfer—he was dead set against taking it up as a regular activity because he felt that it took too much time away from the family.
But he inquired about joining various country clubs–especially if the country club had a tiered membership system (meaning different annual fees if you were going to be a golfer or a non-golfing membership). Most of my friends’ families went to a particular country club. When my dad checked about that place he discovered they would not permit blacks or Jewish people to join. He made a special point of explaining that he wouldn’t join a club that excluded. He and mom made a special point of explaining to us that not only would we not be joining, we also were not permitted to go those clubs as guests of our friends.
Then they found a club that was only a swim place–and did not exclude anyone. That is what we joined. That is authenticity. He and mom told us that we cannot proclaim to be for equality, and to see God in each person and yet belong to an organization that is bigoted. That is condoning what we believe to be evil. Even if our refusal to partake in their discrimination doesn’t make a difference to anyone else, we will know that you are authentic. That matters. Stand for right.
This week we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. I thought a lot about my dad this week. I am, as always, grateful beyond measure that my father insisted that we stand up for what is right from an early age.