Another Striking Observation from Howard Thurman about Youth & Spiritual Leadership

Continuing our reflection on the Climate Strike led by young people, we turn once more to Dr. Howard Thurman, the African American mystic and prophet who was in many ways the spiritual genius behind the civil rights movement.  Present at the march on Washington DC in 1963 that included Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he offers this very original observation:

The thing that made the deepest impression on me at the ceremonies at the base of the Lincoln Monument…was not the vast throng, as thrilling at it was to be a part of such a tremendous movement of peoples on the march; it was not the inspired oratory of all the participating speakers, including the dazzling magic of the music and utter vitality springing from the throat of Martin Luther King; it was not the repeated refrain of Eugene Blake, saying on behalf of the church, we are late but we are here—no, it was none of these things. 

What impressed me most was a small group of young people representing student nonviolent groups, fresh from the jails and violences of the South, who time and time again caught the spiritual overtones of the speakers and led the critical applause which moved like a tidal wave over the vast audience.  I do not know but this observation may be an embarrassment to them, but this is how it seemed to me.  These young people were tuned to the spiritual dimension of what they were about even as what they were about was the exercising of their civil rights inherent in their citizenship.“

Demonstrators holding signs during the March on Washington, 1963. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division, U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection [Public domain]

This profound and holy man, Dr. Howard Thurman, who with his wife traveled to India in 1935 and met Gandhi bringing back his non-violent techniques for social change to the black community in America, and whose book Jesus and the Disinherited was such a gospel to Dr. King that he took it with him each of the thirty-nine times he went to jail while protesting social segregation in America, does not remember King’s great oratory or even the hundreds of thousands who marched for freedom and justice so much as he remembers the young. 

Those who had the courage to themselves go to jail and take on an evil system replete with numerous “violences” and who, “exercised their civil rights inherent in their citizenship.”  And why did they make so profound an impact on Thurman’s awareness?  Because they were leaders in catching “the spiritual overtones” of the historic moment.  And because of their courage.

Are we today, whatever our age, catching the spiritual overtones behind the climate change movements?

Adapted from Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox, Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision For a New Generation, pp. xixf.
See also: Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, Jen Listug, Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action

Banner Image: “Students march because Black Lives Matter: Minneapolis, Minnesota May 1, 2015 Students walked out of school and met at Martin Luther King Jr. park for a protest against police killings of black people.” Photo by Fibonacci Blue, Flickr

Queries for Contemplation

Meditations: Are we becoming “attuned to the spiritual dimensions of what we are about today” in our efforts at rebelling against our and other species extinction?  At addressing Climate Change?  At realizing that the peril of the planet is also a perspective that allows all generations but also all religions and all nationalities and all peoples and all tribes to work together t combat a common enemy—the death of the planet as we know it? 

Might this Via Negativa we all face be turned into a burst of Creativity and Justice we all yearn for?

Recommended Reading

Authors Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox encourage us to use our talents in service of compassion and justice and to move beyond our broken systems–economic, political, educational, and religious–discovering a spirituality that not only helps us to get along, but also encourages us to reevaluate our traditions, transforming them and in the process building a more sacred and just world. Incorporating the words of young activist leaders culled from interviews and surveys, the book provides a framework that is deliberately interfaith and speaks to our profound yearning for a life with spiritual purpose and for a better world.

By Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jen Listug
“The Order of the Sacred Earth not only calls us home to our true nature as Earth, but also offers us invaluable guidance and company on the way.” 
~~ Joanna Macy, environmental activist and author of Active Hope
“The creation of the Order of the Sacred Earth is a magnificent step forward for humanity.”  ~~ Andrew Harvey, author of Way of Passion and The Hope.

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2 thoughts on “Another Striking Observation from Howard Thurman about Youth & Spiritual Leadership”

  1. Avatar
    Anne Marie Raftery

    Yes, Greta Thunberg’s spark is enabling us to see with “new eyes” the
    real condition of Mother Earth! Our emergency- response is a matter
    of conscience!

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Anne Marie,
      Thank you for sharing your heightened awareness about the condition of our planet. I hope the sight of these young people demanding the right to live full and healthy lives has given people of power new eyes as well.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team\\

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