What I said at Troy’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration

First I chanted in Hebrew, a sweet melody that I wish I could have you hear; it was Shir haShirim.

Then I began in English: “I am a White, Jewish woman raising Black and White children. And it pains me to know that my children will not be treated the same, out in the world, because of the color of their skin. (Murmurs of assent.) And my job, as their mother, is to make sure that they know that they are beautiful, and that they are strong.” (More murmurs of assent, some words of agreement called out, Yesses and Amens.)

At the back of my head, I’m thinking, “My job, as one of their mothers … let’s not go there right now…” And I’m also tickled to have elicited the verbal responses which mean, in a Black Baptist church, that you’ve reached the congregation, you’ve touched their hearts.

“So this is a little lovesong for them; from the Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.

I am black, and beautiful,

O daughters of Jerusalem,

Like the tents of Kedar,

Like King Solomon’s pavilions.

Don’t stare at me because I’m dark,

Because the sun has gazed upon me.

“And these next lines are an acknowledgment of what Dr. King knew: that our struggles lie not only around skin color but at the intersection of race and class.” (Actually I didn’t say it quite that eloquently but I’m not sure what words I used, and that’s what I meant.)

My mother’s sons were angry with me;

They made me guard their vinyards.

My own vinyard… I have not tended.

I looked up and said: “May all our children know that they are beautiful… and that their own vinyard is their first priority.” (Amens and clapping.)

There is nothing modest about this post; I was very, very pleased to be able to speak from the heart, and to find that it worked. And I was very proud of my children, all four, Black and White, sitting in their best clothes and watching their Eema speak.