Protecting the unworthy

March 2, 2012 

Years ago there was a young man who was called to care for a people in a country called America. To him many gifts were bestowed, among them the gift of insight.

He understood and fell in love with a race of people whose ancestors had been brought to a place called America aboard ships from lands far away. He loved these people because he knew them to be a gentle folk above all else.

He became their leader, guiding them, not for personal gain or historical merit, but because he knew at that moment in time, there was no one else to stand and protect them. They were his people and when he looked down from a speaker’s platform, a pulpit or out from a jail cell, he felt compassion few of us have known.

His compassion was great because his people had suffered much and were suffering still in America, a land where something called “the American dream” was a reality for many, but not for a child with ebony skin.

She stood there, down front, looking up with dark innocent eyes, waiting for words of hope from the man who spoke of a dream. Looking down from a pulpit into those dark eyes, compassion like water flowed from the man in the pulpit. For an instant, he saw her as many in America saw her -- as something less than. Not a slave, but less than free. Not helpless, but less than able. Not ugly, but less than beautiful. Not ignorant, but less than brilliant. Less than worthy of something called “the American dream.”

She existed in a state of nothingness, something to be tolerated, a nuisance. It broke the man’s heart when he saw her as she was, a child with a future. And with his gift he looked into the future and saw her as she would become -- an adult who would be seen as less than.

The man, who had been around these less-than-worthies all his life, knew they were more than worthy and in fact very worthy to be called Americans. But in his time, people were not yet ready to have less than worthy people called that so other names were bestowed. Black, African, African American, were used to soften the idea of less than worthies being called Americans.

This seemed to make everyone feel better, even though most of his people had been born in America, and Africa was a continent with over 40 different countries. His people had no country. They just didn’t look like the other Americans. His people were not free. And so he had a dream.

He dreamed of a place where the little ebony girl with the big dark eyes would be judged, not by the color of her skin, as beautiful as that was, but by the content of her character. He dreamed of a place where she would be judged, not by her ancestors’ past, as difficult as that had been, but by her ability to change the future. She came from a people whose spirit was indomitable, and who had been given gifts of patience, laughter, a caring nature and much more.

This man knew his people needed hope and so he told them about his dream. And in that dream, they began the greatest social revolution in America’s history. A movement based on nonviolence for they were a nonviolent people. A movement founded on biblical principles for they were a religious people and a movement designed to appeal to America’s guilty conscience. No one knows what became of the little ebony girl who stood down front, but there are others like her waiting for the dream to come true. And while America continues to twist and turn in the winds of guilt, the revolution continues. Each must play his part.

Sonny Harmon is an educator at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at

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