“What Matters Most to Me”
Tuajuanda C. Jordan
MLK Prayer Breakfast Remarks
Presented on January 18, 2021
“Let us continue to let all that is good in humanity prevail.” With these words I concluded a campus-wide email after a racist incident sparked pain, anger, and denial on our campus community a few years ago. These words rose up in my consciousness late on the evening of January 6th, 2021. But this time, I was questioning why I once hoped that the prevailing of humanity was a possibility in spite of the history of this country. Indeed, it was the emboldened actions of some, that have been stoked over the course of the last four years, that made me wonder is there any good in humanity that can prevail.
Why is it so challenging for good to prevail? For the good in humanity to prevail? Why is it that, instead of seeking common ground for the greater good, there is the need to oppress and to subjugate? Why do so many believe that calls for equity and equality mean that something is being taken from them? Why is it that the words written and delivered in an 1875 speech to the United States Congress by James T. Rapier, a Black man representing the Second Congressional District of Alabama in support of the Civil Rights Bill are some of the same words I feel compelled to speak today 146 years later? Words that speak to the untenable situation Black leaders find themselves in because we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t speak to the situation of Blacks in these so-called united states of America. How do we speak to the plight of Black Americans, highlighting the dichotomy, the anomaly of being and not at the same time, in a manner that brings something new to the conversation? Rapier said: “I MUST CONFESS it is somewhat embarrassing for a colored man to urge the passage of this bill, because if he exhibits an earnestness in the matter and expresses a desire for its immediate passage, straightway he is charged with a desire for social equality, as explained by the demagogue and understood by the ignorant white man. But then it is just as embarrassing for him not to do so, for, if he remains silent while the struggle is being carried around, and for him, he is liable to be charged with a want of interest in a matter that concerns him more than any one else, which is enough to make his friends desert his cause. So in steering away from Scylla I may run upon Charybdis. But the anomalous and, I may add, the supremely ridiculous position of the Negro at this time, in this country, compels me to say something. Here his condition is without comparison, parallel alone to itself.”
How profound. And, what deja vu! We are still in this predicament almost 150 years later!
So, what matters most to me? That this country lives up to its creed and embrace, enact, and embody the vision set forth by the men who wrote the Constitution and those leaders who amended it to bring greater clarity and relevance to that vision for humanity. It matters to me that the leaders find the courage and the conscience to speak the truth, live up to their commitment to serve with an eye towards liberty and justice for all. For All. Not just those who have power and have perpetuated their perceived dominance by protecting this system known as racism. It is beyond time to dismantle the System.
In recent weeks, I have heard many speakers repeat Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” Well, that may be true but, I am inclined on this day to quote Dr. King’s constant refrain from his “Drum Major Instinct” speech and that is the question, “how long?” So, I ask you, how long is this arc? I have entered my seventh decade of living in these united states and it appears to me that the trajectory towards this thing called “justice” is not that of an arc but rather that of a “random walk” that is easily deflected from its path by the actions of those that come into power for reasons designed not to enact and embrace the very tenets of democracy, this republic, and those of its people who have sacrificed so much for the belief in a dream but rather for the sake of their and their sycophants personal gains.
Now is the time to fortify this arc with an unmalleable metal that is bent towards a shorter path to justice, equity, and equality, one fashioned by women and men who have the metal to stand up to racism, social injustice, prejudice, fealty, narcissism, and authoritarianism and compel this republic to be that bastion of democracy that we have claimed it to be. If not now, when? If not us, who? We are all leaders in our own way. It matters to me that each of us take up the mantle and lead this country out of this darkness into the light where we can see justice at the end of this arc.