Going to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the community organizer Saul Alinsky changed my life forever. Their words shook me awake, wouldn't let go.
By the time I graduated from college, their words had convinced me to delay a fellowship to study literature so that I could learn community organizing and try to make a difference. I worked in an inner-city area of severe poverty during the late 1960s and early 1970s. For the first time in my life, I lived where there were no neighbors of my own race.
Those years showed me how poverty, unmet basic needs, and injustice can assault individual lives. I also witnessed the power of people working together to bring about profound change.
A crucial lesson began one day in a cafe where the community gathered. A deacon in a church whose roots reached back to the days before the Civil War invited me to visit the church that Sunday.
I entered the church that weekend and found a seat at the back, looking forward to the minister's sermon. When the time came for the sermon, the minister walked up to the pulpit, looked out at us, and began, "We are most pleased that our neighbor, Mr. Ken Pope, agreed to visit us today, and we look forward to his sermon." This taught me not to assume that my understandings are always shared by others-and that life often calls us to do more than just show up.
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