THIS I BELIEVE
I believe in the worth and dignity of all people; a worth and dignity that is God given and can not be destroyed. This belief was to launch me into a faith pilgrimage which began the summer of 1968.
You recall the sixties? They were a decade of upheaval, rioting and protest. The fight for civil rights was at its height. It was on an eventful June afternoon in 1968, when I was making house calls for my Sunday School Class in an effort to increase class attendance, that I knocked on the door of Mrs. Jackson’s apartment (fictitious name). It was my second trip there. On my first visit she had told me that she had no food and her children had no clothes for church. I had observed them eating potato chips and drinking kool-aide during the supper hour. On my second visit I was happy because I had found where she could get food and clothing for her children!
As I entered the apartment, I immediately noted that the atmosphere was grim and solemn. She was seated on the couch intensely viewing the television; her children were seated on the floor beside her. They, too, were quiet and still. I glanced at the set; the funeral of Robert Kennedy was being televised. Very cautiously I said, Mrs. Jackson, I know where you can get food and clothing for your children. “No”, she replied, “I’ve tried, but they won’t help me.” Tears filled her eyes. She spoke as she continued to watch the TV. “They killed Jack Kennedy, they also killed Martin, now they have killed Bobby. They kill anybody who tries to help us. I won’t ask them for anything.” Tears now streamed down her cheeks. I stood there, at loss for the proper words. I was sorry, sorry for her, sorry for Bobby Kennedy and sorry for a society that could breed sick, perverted assassins. In an effort to help her gain equilibrium (also to gain mine) I said, “Don’t feel that way Mrs. Jackson, don’t be defeated. You must be strong and not give up.” But the more I talked, the more she wept. Tears now began to fill the eyes of her two children. They wept also. I could do nothing, I left.
As I slowly walked out the door and onto the street, I felt utter despair, I had gone there to help, and instead I had left her in tears. Walking down the street with a bowed head, I was filled with indignation. I asked myself “Why?” Why in this affluent society must there by poverty? Why can not minimum wages be set high enough for a person to support one’s family? Billions of dollars had gone into the War on Poverty Program and still children were going hungry. What have they to do with a society that perpetuates social ills such as poverty and injustice?
The indignation which I felt did not die, rather in the next few months it had grown into a determination to gain some insight into the obvious inconsistencies of the social, political and economical systems in this country, and to make a difference in the lives of people like Mrs. Jackson. In the Fall of 1969, I entered the University of Kentucky, to earn a degree in Social work, a profession which, like my values stand for the worth and dignity of all people.
Now some forty year later I realize that Mrs. Jackson had been put down all her life and had like many of the poor become impoverished. My values are now stronger. Only by treating people with worth and dignity can we give them the message that they are important and of great value. Once that message is internalized, I believe true change can take place.