My Forever King

By Johari Jabir

America had but one pastor
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was his name

My King,

The days leading up to the national observance of your birthday
seem to result in a passing season of melancholia
we have crossed so many lines
you warned us not to cross
we now live in the reality of that other side
of hate-filled violence and indifference
that feeds the victims to themselves

I’ve tried to soothe my soul by listening to recordings of your many sermons and speeches

but the fiery tenor of your voice only arouses righteous anger
I hear the revolutionary love in your voice

a prophet’s rage

My King, here we are 55 years after your assassination
And we have yet to reckon with a fundamental conundrum of your legacy:
how shall we wage peaceful protests in a violent society

Peace Be Still

Today, the custodians of the confederacy

I know, my king
they too, are children of God –
having despised your blackness
detested your doctrine of love

debased the peasants who birthed you from struggle

Now, these are they who assert themselves as the watchmen of your legacy
espousing a form of democracy denying the power thereof

Pray for us, brother Martin

for our hearts to grow too big for racism, and race itself

lead us not into the temptation of weaponizing our ego-identities against one another

Send us a sign to remind us
We are each other’s salvific possibility
America had but one pastor,

It was not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal evangelist, Rev. Billy Graham
It was not the anti-Catholic apostle of “positive thinking”, Norman Vincent Peale
It was not the chosen disciple of Ronald Reagan’s Moral Majority, Rev. Jerry Falwell

But America’s only pastor was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Johari Jabir is an artist, scholar, and contemplative. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Johari is director of music at St. George & St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Chicago, IL, and he teaches in the department of Black Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago. His first book, Conjuring Freedom: Music and Masculinity in the Gospel Army of the Civil War (Ohio State University Press, 2017), is a cultural history of the nation’s first Black regiment, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers.

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