I am grateful that we have a holiday to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I think it is a day when we can all revisit the ideals expressed in his epic speech I have a dream and contemplate how we can better love one another and foster a stronger sense of community. I think it is a time to reflect on how the values set down in the declaration of independence and reinforced in the constitution can empower all members of our communities.
Power 2 the Poetry
Back in 2018 the Richmond Art Collective was hosting an open studio event. I was there visiting with guest in my studio when Bethany Montgomery came in and introduced herself. She asked if it would be appropriate for her and her group Power 2 the Poetry to perform a couple of spoken word poems in the hallway between all of the studios where guest were congregating and enjoying snacks. Being a lover of all things poetry I said she should just go for it. The next thing I knew she had launched into a thunderous presentation of her poem Black Lives Matter. Here is the opening stanza:
I am a visionary
I am a revolutionary
Which means that pretty soon I will be in the obituary
But I will not let my dream die
My vision for the future will become alive
Black, white, and all in between with their fists held high
All in recognition of black pride
Black lives matter
After the group completed their performance I was awestruck by the power of words to evoke emotion and to communicate a diverse experience of the world. I approached her and asked her how I could help and volunteered to make some promotional images of her and her collaborators at Power 2 the Poetry
A photo session in the studio
A few weeks later she and a her co-founders A.J. and Lynn Marie arrived at my studio and I had the pleasure of learning just a little bit about their extraordinary lives. Bethany had played basketball on scholarship at EWU until she blew out her knee. She managed to earn her bachelors and a master’s degree in business in only four years. She started the poetry group and became a community leader. She has since returned to Tacoma where she is taking her knowledge of finance to teach young people about money management and how to achieve their dreams.
A little more than a year later during the Covid Pandemic Bethany came to visit me at my home. To be as safe as possible we sat outside around a fire. My neighbor and his twin brother drove in the shared driveway and waved. My neighbor Matt was a county sheriff (now retired) at the time and his brother Jim is a police officer in Renton. We have a standing invitation that if there is a fire going to come join us for a glass of wine and conversation. I wondered how it would go considering my neighbor had flown a large Trump flag during the last two presidential campaigns and Bethany had written a poem titled I Can’t Breath in reference to the George Floyd tragedy.
The conversation flowed effortlessly and respectfully. I really like my neighbor and his brother and we have always had good conversations that often lead us to a middle ground. I was so filled with gratitude to bear witness to Bethany asking tough questions with honesty and openness and watching Jim and Matt respond with such eloquence, kindness and respect. You could see shared fundamental values and genuine care for one another that seem to get lost in media reports.
Upon reading Sidney Cox’s sympathetic biography of one of my favorite but complicated poets Robert Frost, I learned of his attempt to balance the practical with the aspirational through his use of his grounded language of direct observations of natural facts combined with symbols and archetypes that allude to a deeper an ineffable knowing that cannot be known, that leads to spirituality. Frost wrote in a 1925 letter: “Having ideas that are neither pro nor con is a happy thing. Get up there high enough and the differences that make controversy become only the two legs of a body, the weight of which is on one side in one period, on the other, in the next.“
That evening together felt like we were all unified parts of a greater whole. The swaying back in forth in the expression of diverse viewpoints achieved an equilibrium among us. It was a moment where you could say the dream of mutual respect and understanding was achieved.