With our trip to Gettysburg and Washington, D.C. canceled this year due to Covid-19, the Imago Dei Leadership Forum has been holding Zoom calls with our favorite national speakers over the past week. Given the protests over the unjust killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery across the nation, these talks have been both timely and inspiring for our students.

On Tuesday, May 26, Leadership Forum students were blessed to hear from National Gallery of Art Docent Emeritus Susan Scola and Civil Rights speaker/teacher Dede Winkfield. 

Susan began our call introducing the art work of Jacob Lawrence, an African American artist well-known for his Great Migration Series (completed in 1941). The six paintings Susan discussed—from the migration of African Americans from the South to cities such as Chicago, New York, and St. Louis, to the racism and violence many faced in their new communities, to their persevering Christian faith through times of struggle and persecution, to the importance of achieving rights for African Americans in quality education and voting—all brought to life the issues faced by many during this difficult time period.

This moving introduction to the challenges African Americans faced in the 1930s and 40s was a great segue to Dede’s story of growing up in Albany, Georgia in the 1960s.  The first (and only) African American student to integrate her Catholic school as a fifth grader, and one of 20 African American students to integrate her public high school, Dede’s courage and strength was amazing on so many levels.  She credits her bravery to the protection of the LORD and the support and encouragement she received from her mom and dad and their many friends—including Martin and Coretta King.  As a child, Dede had a front row seat to the Civil Rights movement, as her mom, Wilhelmina worked with Dr. King—known affectionally by Dede as “Uncle Martin.” Her behind the scenes portrayal of him and “Aunt Coretta” are both insightful and moving, as we learn of their love of singing and reading Bible stories to Dede and her friends, as well as their heart for justice and resilience and determination to lead peaceful protests in the midst of horrific racism.

With the brokenness and injustice currently being experienced in our nation, Susan and Dede’s challenge to the Leadership Forum students to take a stand for injustice in their schools and communities and treat others as image-bearers of God is still a much-needed message. As Dr. King shared in a sermon to Ebenezer Baptist Church on July 4, 1965:

The whole concept of the imago dei, as it is expressed in Latin, the “image of God,” is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected. Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that. We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.

As both a Christian educator and parent, my vision and prayer for Leadership Forum students has been for them to engage the diverse culture around them while treating others with dignity and respect­. Prayerfully, we will move closer to Dr. King’s goal—and the Gospel mandate—of treating everyone as image-bearers, as we confront the virus of racism that continues to rear its ugly head in America.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” –Micah 6:8

John A. Murray is President of Imago Dei Leadership Forum and author of In Whose Image? (IDLF Press, 2019)

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