For years, I have carried a few lines from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” in my heart. He wrote, “On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings, I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking, ‘What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred?'”
For too long we have disregarded
the hands that write the oppressive, racist laws;
the hands that sit idly folded in laps;
the hands that toiled to build places of privilege
but were excluded from those very places.
Each year, I have my students trace their hands for one or more writing activities. Sometimes they fill the tracing with the names of things they hold dear. Other times, students fill the open hand with memories. Our hands are important. They are symbols. Hands say a lot about who we are — long nails or bitten nails? Callused or smooth hands? Open palms or clenched fists?
When I reflect on what my hands have wrought, I find a mixed bag. I remember times I allowed my hands to remain idle when they should have held up signs in solidarity. Conversely, I recall times I used my hands for good, for equality, for justice. If I traced my open hand right now, some of the elements I could add shine bright while others call out for redress.
In the quiet of an early Saturday morning, I know my hands have much work left to do.