Being Beautiful: Bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice

Once in a while, you invest a day of your life and when it’s over, you know it was an incredibly good investment. I had such a day on Wednesday in Memphis, Tennessee.

I had the distinct honor of attending the Dr. Henry Logan Starks Awards Luncheon sponsored by the Memphis Theological Seminary. It was a citywide celebration of the legacy of a great African-American theologian, pastor, and educator, also coinciding with the commemoration activities in Memphis of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We were guests of Seminary President Dr. Jay Earheart-Brown and Vice President Dr. Keith Gaskin who is a close friend Chris made in college and now a good friend to both of us. We were there because The Honorable Constance Slaughter-Harvey, Esquire, a mentor for Chris and family-of-choice member for almost 50 years, was the keynote speaker. Chris was thrilled that he got to help introduce her.

And speak she did.

With a list of notable firsts and over 500 awards which would fill the pages of this entire newspaper, Connie is a legend in her own time who is still going strong, the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Mississippi law school, the first African-American judge in Mississippi, one of the original founders of the Black Law Students Associations at colleges and universities nationwide and the only woman to hold this distinction, a co-founder and national advisory board member of the National Institutes for Historically-Underserved Students, and counsel in a number of historic civil rights lawsuits including the one which desegregated the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol.

Perhaps her most important work, however, was saved for her “retirement” when she founded the Legacy Foundation which will indeed be an important part of her legacy, providing academic and social enrichment to historically-underserved children in the community where she grew up.

Her daughter and grandson looking on with pride, Connie spoke of many things, but the one that struck me most was her emphasis on “passing the baton of leadership” to young people. She feels confident in and inspired by the passion of today’s youth who are speaking out nationally against gun violence and other important concerns, and she is ready, well, almost ready, to entrust her lifelong work to them.

From Black Lives Matter to the #Me Too Movement targeting the sexual abuse of women, from the “Twitter President” to the sanitation strike which brought Dr. King to Memphis on that fateful day, Connie did what she is famous for doing. She called it like she sees it, and we are all the better for it.

Poetically after Connie talked about passing the baton to young people, an amazing 17-year-old named Amal Altareb was one of a number of distinguished award winners. Amal won the Candlebearer’s Award for her brave work beginning and sustaining difficult dialogue about social justice among her youth peers in Memphis, giving Connie a futuristic punctuation mark for her remarks.

Kudos to the Seminary, to Jay, Keith, and The Reverend Dr. Rosalyn Nichols who is founding director of The Henry Logan Starks Institute for Faith, Race, and Social Justice at Memphis Theological Seminary. The seminary was a trailblazer in providing racial and gender equity in higher education back when others did not, and obviously it means for that important commitment to continue.

Contact David at [email protected].