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Farewell


August 10, 2020

As we say farewell to two beloved figures of the Civil Rights Movement, Rev. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, and Congressman John Robert Lewis, I do so with mixed emotions like many of you. I celebrate their lives and honor their sacrifice, courage, and resilience. I am thankful that they lived during our time and that they had the opportunity to see some of the results of their labor, their "good trouble", as well as the world. In 2015, Dr. C. T. Vivian graced the doctoral students of the Doctor of Ministry Program, Interdenominational Theological Center (Atlanta), with his awe-inspiring presence and meaningful dialogue. Yet, I am saddened by the fact that there is so little known about either man in terms of personal stories and conversations about social justice and social transformation, and the families that supported them in this efforts. Or, their wisdom and advice to the current and next generation of civil and human right activists related to 21st century moral leaders and necessary skill sets related to social change and transformation.

Yet, I am aware of the voices of the younger generations, arguing that the missiology of Dr. M. L. King, Jr. is outdated, and societal change has occurred too slowly. When viewed against the backdrop of 50-year-old photos and video clips of the young Rev. C. T. Vivian and Representative John Lewis speaking, acting, and marching for racial justice and the right to vote amidst police confrontations, it is easy for some to question racial progress. Today's uprisings and protest movements against social injustices, police brutality, and unfair voting practices make it easy for some to reflect and suspect how much change has occurred. For some reason, as I watched a young millennial protestor respectfully disagree with Representative John Lewis about the slow rate of US societal change, Irene Peter's words came to mind:

Just because everything is different does not mean anything has changed.

Clearly, societal change has occurred, but it is the rate of the change and the human cost of that change that is being challenged. Speaking of change… and response to change, not too long ago, I read an article entitled Game Theory (Fortune Magazine, April 2020). It described a wargame simulation called Urban Outbreak on September 17, 2019, at John Hopkins University, Laurel, Md. The goal of this wargame was to see how people in the fictional city of 'Olympia' would respond in real-time to "a profoundly dangerous and complex problem set"- the sudden presence of a deadly disease in an urban community. And the outcome of the game? What the US Naval War College and the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health discovered after participating in this two-day seminar is most apparent: the US was not and is not yet ready with a comprehensive corvid-19 response. As a result, there has not been a major US urban community, large or small, that has not been critically impacted by the epidemic.

The struggles for a unifying nation, racial justice and equity, and a comprehensive approach to the health pandemic have collided at a time in history and shed light on the many and differing issues that raise critical questions about our readiness for real change:

· defining essential vs. non-essential workers

· physical health vs. non-healthy (persons, organizations, and institutions)

· federal vs. state rights

· mayoral vs. gubernatorial authority

· scientific vs. religious approached

· violent vs. non-violent strategies

· diversity and inclusion vs. white supremacy ideology

· virtual vs. face to face education

· technology haves vs. have nots (persons, organizations, and institutions)

· employed vs. unemployed vs. underemployed

· virtual vs. graveside funeral rites

And the list continues, and these issues are all intertwined and multifaceted. All around us, people are demanding change; people want opportunities; people wish for justice. They want real conversations, dialogues about things important, as we seek to forge a way forward.

Just because everything is different does not mean anything has changed.

It is nearly five months since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic and two months since the murder of George Floyd that started worldwide protest. Both realities have disrupted our lives. Now that we are all vulnerable, what are we discovering about change and our readiness for change? One of the first things I have learned about leadership and change is the need first to change the way we think about ourselves. It is my prayer that you are feeling well, doing the right things, and have discovered that you are stronger than you think as we experience these challenging times.

Real and lasting change begins with us. If you are not doing well and perhaps feel anxious, irritable, or even depressed, it is okay not to be okay because nothing about this is normal. You can receive support 9:00 a.m.- 9:00 p.m., Monday – Saturday, by calling the Support Call Center, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, 888-626-0670, or contact your local community help center, or house of worship. Life is evolving daily, even as we seek to define the 'new normal.' If you are feeling okay, remember that physical distancing is not social distancing, and make time to encourage others.

More importantly, know that you are not alone. We indeed are in this together. And that's what I am reflecting on today: the fact that we do know the difference between the noise of change and ‘the sounds of empty symbols’, and real, lasting change. We honor the legacy of Rev. C. T. Vivian and Representative John Robert Lewis, as they have moved from elders to ancestors (a privilege not granted to all), by participating fully in life, staying hopeful in community and by navigating the uncertainties of life with a courageous spirit, unafraid to “speak up and speak out."

Blessings, all!

Marsha Snulligan Haney

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