Davies 1-15-2012

My Word: King turned a light on the darkness

Gus Davies(Orlando Sentinel, January 15, 2012)

By Gus Davies

The Martin Luther King holiday, on Monday, is special for me as an African-American. Exceptionally so.

You see, I’m African-American in the fullest sense of the term. I was born in Africa, but now my wife, Jeneba, and I are naturalized U.S. citizens. We feel privileged to be here. But for my African countrymen of a few centuries ago, there was no destination more feared.

It was from Sierra Leone, my country of birth, that one of the first English slave ships sailed to the New World in the 16th century. Over the next three centuries, millions of Africans were packed into cargo holds and shipped across the Atlantic to a life of slavery. Many didn’t survive the voyage. And they may have been the lucky ones.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared slavery on U.S. soil to be over. But a presidential proclamation doesn’t automatically change the prevailing values and attitudes that fostered slavery.

Nearly another 100 years elapsed before light really began to shine through the darkness — in great measure because of men and women of principle who were determined to make it happen.

Martin Luther King Jr. arrived at the right time, with the right message and the right approach. His words and example were compelling. Though we lived an ocean away, King was a hero to many of us in Africa.

I was only 14 when MLK was assassinated. But his speeches, his fearlessness and his refusal to be distracted had inspired me. Directly or indirectly, his efforts improved the lot of blacks, the poor and other disadvantaged groups in the United States. Moreover, King’s dream sent ripples worldwide.

Today at the annual Candlelight Vigil and March (Orlando City Hall, 6 p.m.) and Interfaith and Multicultural Service (Shiloh Baptist Church, 6:45 p.m.) honoring King, the theme will be “Turning Darkness Into Light.”

King’s goal of turning darkness into light wasn’t fully realized during his lifetime. Neither has it been fully realized since, despite much commendable progress. So the greatest tribute we can pay to those who’ve worked so hard is to continue their quest for a more just and equitable society.

Martin Luther King’s dream and determination helped create a much-improved adopted country for my family and me. And we feel honored to call it home.

Gus Davies is on the pastoral staff of Northland, a Church Distributed, and is on the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.