The Pelican State

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There’s something about being in the Deep South for such an important national holiday as the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.  Fortunately for me, the service at The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was one of progress, enlightenment and growth amongst adversity.

The sermon centered on a scene from “In the Heat of the Night,” in which Chief Gillespie (Carroll O’Conner) finds himself struggling with his own institutionalized racial discrimination.  Walking into his office, Gillespie finds his newly appointed African American Chief of Detectives, Virgil Tibbs (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.)  hammering a nail into the wall to hang a picture.  Innocent enough until he realizes that the picture Tibbs is hanging is that of Martin Luther King, Jr.  After suggesting that Tibbs replace it with something ‘more personal’ like a ‘desktop photo’ that can be whisked away into a drawer, he in turn finds himself attempting to defend a much larger portrait above his own desk (which appeared to be a portrait of General Robert E. Lee), only finding within himself the response, “It came with the office.”  A small scene, but such a powerful testament to those that practice life by keeping the status quo regardless of how those practices affect the lives of others.

The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge
The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge with proud display of its symbolic circular window

The sermon was not just one of history, but of the difficulties of overcoming racial degradation in modern America.  As the Rev. Steve J. Crump, Senior Minister, expressed the pride of sharing the second inauguration day of President Obama–a monumental event in modern history–he also shared the struggles of today’s Baton Rouge, a city with a higher murder rate than Chicago and only second to Atlanta for HIV cases.  A city where the average age of those murdered is at a mere 26-years-old, and of those committing the murders at an even younger 22-years-old.

Although laced with the importance of our continuing fight, the service also celebrated modern progression and reminded all Unitarians of our own role in the advancement of social justice and racial equality.  There were beautiful voices raised by the church’s own Marie Flowers and Seynabou Diack, and a poignant dance presentation by the LSU MLK Dance Ensemble.  All framed by the sanctuary’s large circle window inspired by an Edwin Markham poem stating, “They drew a circle and shut me out,  A heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.  But love and I had the wit to win,  We drew a circle and took them in.”  So perfect an homage to this church and the wonderful members and staff that I had the privilege of meeting!

For more information on attending The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge: http://www.unitarianchurchbr.com/

To enjoy the works of Edwin Markham, visit: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/edwin-markham

Link to a previous performance by the LSU MLK Dance Ensemble at the Unitarian Church, 2009: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36TmQ51eCCU

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