I am an activist for my people. As I have grown older, I have more likely performed my activism with my words, which is the tool I have had at hand.
Sometimes I am repetitive. I am a teacher. Some lessons are hard. That’s a clue to the fact that they are important. Important lessons need to be taught more than once, again and again, time and again, using different words, approaching the issue from different points of view. That’s what I do. Some of you claim that I do it “ad nauseam.” It’s your nausea, not mine.
Many of you know me as the transsexual woman (or whatever you call me…I’m sure that it is not favorable in many instances). Some of you know me as an artist or a poet. Some of you see the teacher in me. Or the glbt activist and PFLAG parent. I am all of these. I am a human being.
I was born in a place and time. I have absorbed the life lessons presented to me since then. I am still learning.
I’ve tried to pass on what I have learned. I continue to make that effort, in whatever new venues are available, wherever I can find an opened eye or ear.
“This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
“Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring-when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children-black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics-will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
—I Have a Dream
–August 28, 1963
I was 15 then. My world was shaken. I like to think that if I were old enough, I would have joined in the struggle. I like to believe that in some ways, even though I couldn’t join it physically, I did emotionally. I did psychologically. I know I have identified with the struggle ever since.
In less than three months John Fitzgerald Kennedy would be assassinated. The world was shaken for us all. We learned, as if we hadn’t completely absorbed it from all the fear-mongering of the Cold War, that none of us were safe. On a totally different level none of us are safe. And we also learned that in the pursuit of freedom we are also all expendable, as long as there are some who remain with their eyes on the prize.
I have always considered myself to be a spiritual person, though not terribly religious. I know it will be off-putting to some readers. Suck it up. This is Martin’s day.
Time passed. Events occurred. While Martin and Coretta were engaged in one struggle, I was engaged in my own personal search for freedom…freedom of the spirit, freedom of the soul. In order to effectively help others one must first unchain one’s own heart and mind.
It would take over a quarter of a century.
Along the way I traveled. I returned to Haight Street in early 1968 from a round-trip visit to Florida and which included a foray into Mexico. I still hadn’t found myself. I really had no idea where I should even look. On that trip I had rejected the Christianity in which I had been raised. Or maybe I was rejecting the Christians who I had met from my new position of having joined the least of us.
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.
And I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
—I’ve Been to the Mountaintop
–April 3, 1968
April 3, 1968 was my twentieth birthday.
The next day Martin was assassinated.
News about the outside world mostly didn’t reach the street people in the Haight. But this did. Some friends and I managed to end up in Grace Cathedral. And we learned about the Poor People’s Campaign. We signed up. It was time to make a statement, in whatever minuscule way we could.
We rode in buses across the country, from locations far and wide. We stayed in churches along the way. I remember Sparks, Nevada. I remember somewhere in Kansas. The caravan grew.
Buses from the West converged on St. Louis, where we disembarked from the buses and marched across the bridge over the Mississippi River.
We slept at a convention center in Louisville and the next morning ate breakfast at Churchill Downs. And the caravan grew.
We arrived at our specified destination, a church in Rockville, MD. We were there a couple of days before being transported to Resurrection City, which we proceeded to help build.
And we endured the mud and hunger and sickness we encountered for Martin’s sake. And we marched for Martin and his message. And we heard other messages. And we made promises to never take our eyes off the prize.
My eyes are still there. The prize is still eluding our grasp.
The sad thing is that some folks would like to put limits on who deserves the prize.
Why is the caravan not still growing?
I wrote a poem about Martin and Coretta after Coretta’s death:
Landscape of the Mind
I wrote this as the conclusion of an essay from a few years ago:
Martin and Coretta mean a lot to me. I marched in the Poor People’s March in 1968. I like to think it was in Martin’s spirit. At a GLBT conference we sponsored in the late 90s Phill Wilson of the National Black Gay & Lesbian Leadership Forum told us a story I will never forget. I hope none of us do. He spoke about gay rights to an assemblage of black religious people…I have forgotten if it was a church or another conference. Afterwards he was asked, “Who is the gay Martin Luther King?” He responded, without hesitation, “Martin Luther King.”
Indeed, Martin Luther King is the human Martin Luther King. And Martin knew that you can’t even get to The Mountaintop if you are not willing to climb the hills.
The hills are the injustices we encounter in our everyday lives. We can’t turn our backs on them and keep our eyes on that prize. We cannot tell some folks that the prize is not for them. We cannot stand by and allow people to be told that the prize is not for them by someone else and still claim to be embracing the spirit of Martin and Coretta.
It is time for a new dedication. It is time to dedicate our work so that we can climb those hills and reach that mountaintop and enter that promised land, that land where all of us are free, where justice reigns supreme, where people are respected for who they have become and the deeds they have performed to make this world a better place.
We cannot reach that place…cannot claim the prize…if we travel as tribes. Regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or religious conviction, if we don’t travel together we shall wander in the wilderness. We shall never form that caravan, never build our Resurrection City and never enjoy the fruits of the labors of those who have set us upon this road.
Martin was not allowed to travel with us. I fully understand that I will not reach the promised land with you either. It’s a long trip and we seem too much of the time to have lost our way. And forty-five years have passed.
But I will not give up hope. The prize is still there. I may not live to be able to touch it, but it is still there. I can be satisfied with my life as long as people are still climbing the mountain and still reaching out to grasp it.
Please help the caravan grow.
|People get ready
There’s a train a-comin’
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
I have published a version of this…
…on Martin’s Day…now Martin and Coretta’s Day…for several years now. It was first named The Mountaintop and then Revisiting the Mountaintop.
Some of the words have been changed as well as the title. This piece is under continual revision as I search, probably in vain, for the words which will propel us upward and onward.