When I was in middle school we were required to take a general music class as one of our “specials” rotations. Our teacher was eclectic, some would have probably called her neurotic. She was one of the sweetest ladies, but generally misunderstood by our pre-adolescent selves. As an assignment we all had to complete a singing memorization test during the course of the semester.
We sang every day in that class with content drawn from a wide range of classic musicals. But our singing was more patriotic in nature. We had two songs to choose from: The Star Spangled Banner or Lift Every Voice. Our teacher told us the story of one of her former students who chose to memorize every verse of the National Anthem. Because most people already knew our National Anthem, that was the song most decided on. But Lift Every Voice resonated with me. Not just the intensity of the words and the vivid picture it paints, but the lyrical and rhythmic dichotomies it contains. The melody is haunting–you can hear the strife and heaviness of the story it tells just from a few opening notes.
So among a diverse group of students, there I stood, belting my heart out to a National Anthem that I barely understood as a white 12 year old girl. There are times during the year that I call upon this song, it has a way of soothing my soul in a unique way. It helps me connect with something outside of myself. It reminds me that there is still work to be done. As I write this post I am cautious in my language. This semester in grad school I’m in a class on Diversity. I recognize I bring my own (sometimes invisible) bias and privilege when talking about race (and other categories we are taught by society should divide us). On this MLK day I hope to be a little more open-minded, a little more willing to have and engage in tough questions, a little more vulnerable to how I’ve contributed to the problem of privilege over the years.
Maybe one day all of our voices can join as one, as humans, to true proclaim and embrace liberty for all people.