Reverend C.T. Vivian

Our country is very divided. We spend time yelling insults at each other, without any regard for the pain that is inflicted by the rhetoric. If someone doesn’t believe what we believe then we suggest they are “stupid and ignorant”. We try to associate with those who feel and believe in the things we believe in, without any attempt to understand a different point of view. Where can this possibly lead our nation?

Last September, I had the opportunity to attend an evening with Rev. C. T. Vivian, one of the pillars of the civil rights movement. In a speech celebrating the life of Rev. Vivian, President Obama called him “the greatest preacher to ever live”.

At this event, the 92-year-old Vivian was mesmerizing as he described his youth, and growing up on a farm. With incredible clarity he spoke of his experience as a Freedom Rider, and of organizing the movement that would change our country forever. He described the different paths that each of the original members of the movement would later take in life, and that he had wanted to be a preacher. With such clarity and conviction about his purpose, so many of us in the audience knew we were in the presence of greatness, incredibly humble greatness I might add.

After the presentation, a reception was held so that pictures could be taken with this American icon. I was amazed as I witnessed this elderly man greeting each individual with such respect and grace.  He took time to speak with those in attendance, and stayed on his feet for nearly an hour as everyone that wanted a picture with the iconic civil rights leader got their wish.

Now was my chance. I had waited and now it was my turn. I had a reason for waiting until the very end, as I had one last question for the reverend. Three  years prior to this event, I had attended a race awareness workshop that had changed my life. The individuals at this workshop were among the most talented, well-educated, successful and articulate men and women that I had ever met. (I kept wondering “how did I get in here?”).

Toward the end of the session, the facilitator asked the following question to the African Americans in the room. Is there any reason that you feel, think or believe that things will be better in America for you or your children in the next ten years? This, in my opinion, was a “lay-up” question, as I was confident every one of them had to respond yes. I was shocked and pained as one after another they responded NO. This just could not be. Our country had come so far, and relations of men and women of different races had gotten “so much better” as my generation has built bridges for all to cross. “No,” each person said no.

Now, three years later, I would have the chance to ask this great American that same question.  I knew he would give me a different answer. I introduced myself to Reverend C.T. Vivian, and told him about the workshop. (I was confident he was familiar with the facilitator.) I explained my confusion over the answer my colleagues had given. Then I asked him the same question. “Is there any reason that you feel, think or believe that things will be better in America for you or your children? What do you think, sir?” And he said, “Yes.”  There it was.! I knew it! I knew there was a reason to believe.

I turned to walk away, and I felt the grip of a much younger man on my forearm.  I turned back to face Reverend Vivian holding my arm, and with a smile he said, “Yes, but only if we begin to speak with each other with love and understanding. Leaders in our communities have to care about each other.” He released my forearm, smiled and shook my hand. At 6 feet, two hundred and fifty pounds, I was flattened by a 92-year-old preacher. The Reverend C.T. Vivian still speaks with such amazing impact.

I wish I had written about this earlier. Recent events led me back to the pictures and the memories of that incredible night with C.T. Vivian.

There is a national dialogue about making our country great again. We are a great nation. But I believe our nation is at risk. Can we come together? Is there a reason to think, feel, or believe that we can come together? To quote a man that has changed the course of our nation before, YES, if we begin to speak with each other with love and understanding.

Thank you Reverend Vivian. Thank you very much.

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