On Easter Sunday 65 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a congregation in Montgomery about the sadness and darkness of life.
“I begin to despair every now and then,” he said. “Every now and then, I feel like asking God … ‘Why is it simply because some of your children ask to be treated as first-class human beings they are trampled over, their homes are bombed, their children are pushed from their classrooms, and sometimes little children are thrown in the deep waters of Mississippi?’”
But despair is short-sighted, King said. And when he began to despair, he was reminded that Easter follows Good Friday. The crucifixions of this life are followed by resurrections. Hope and love are more powerful than sorrow and hatred.
“If you will just wait, Easter will come,” he said. “The most durable, lasting power in this world is the power to love.”
Based on this sermon by our namesake, MLK50 reached out to Memphians to ask how they overcome anguish and what little resurrections they have seen in Memphis recently.
Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What keeps you going in hard times?
Kim Watts, a Foote Park at South City resident:
It’s hard. On Saturday night, my grandson and I were eating pizza and ice cream when all of a sudden, we heard gunfire right outside the door. He was so nervous, he threw up.
I have a biblical app on my phone. It reminds me every hour to pray. Also, I know there are people in a worse predicament than I am.
Melvin Watkins, senior pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church:
My chief reason for hope is I worship a God of hope. No matter how bad things look, better days are coming.
Korry Freeman, a lifelong Memphian who experienced homelessness last year:
My little boy. I got custody over him. He’s 9.
What hopeful things — or “little resurrections” — do you see occurring in Memphis these days?
Joanna Richmond, manager at Tops Bar-B-Q and owner of Pull Up Bartender:
The more and more I see small Black businesses flourish gives me hope. Whether mine, my daughter’s, my friends’ or people I met by going to business expos.
Justin J. Pearson, co-founder of Memphis Community Against Pollution:
There are lots of little resurrections happening in Memphis: from the environmental justice movement that is impacting our city and state’s laws, to the fight for our right to vote freely, to the Starbucks 7 workers catalyzing the labor movement.
I see a bright hope in our youth. While there are instances of violence, there’s also a bright hope among our youth because they’re more aware of what’s happening in our society and more willing to do something about it.
I also see little resurrections when communities try to work together, whether it’s a nonviolence march or a food pantry, clothes closet or neighborhood cleanup. There’s a willingness for people to serve more.
The people at St. Mary’s Episcopal got me a job and helped me get an apartment. I got a lot of stuff going when I started going over there.
How have you seen painful “Good Fridays” turned into “Easter Sundays”?
I think this pandemic brought all of us down to an even playing field and we said, ‘Hey, let’s roll up our sleeves to help one another.’”
My son, an 18-year-old, was hit in a bike accident right when the pandemic started and tore his leg up. He’s had 15 different surgeries. I gave up for a moment on that. I was wondering how we were going to pay off the balance on those bills.
But the surgeon paid the balance off, and my son’s doing extremely well. He’ll still graduate in the top 10 of his class.
Why is it important for Memphians to stay optimistic?
Attitude makes a huge difference in what we’re doing. It most certainly affects your whole spirit. Optimism fuels our energy to work toward a common good. If we are hopeless, then we kind of fizzle out.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You just have to be patient and have faith.
Jacob Steimer is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at Jacob.Steimer@mlk50.com
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.