Honoring diversity

I Had A Dream Sitting with Dr. MLK Jr. Under a Ceiba Tree

In January in the United States we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a national holiday that is now known as a National Day of Service to honor the legacy, philosophy and actions of the great humanitarian for civil rights. And in February, we celebrate Black History Month where we remember the important contributions of Americans of African descent. As an African American Ecotherapist and experienced public health social worker I sometimes struggle with finding a way to describe Ecotherapy to my community while also challenging my white colleagues to address the gaping blind spots in  Ecopsychology and Environmental movements that rarely address or link the issues of social justice for people of color and poor people in the Unites States to the broader conversation.

The Ceiba tree is known in the Lucumi/Oricha spiritual tradition as a sacred tree deeply connected to the ancestors.

And then I began where I always do, contemplating the lives of my ancestors and it is from this point that I begin to see that the work of many African American ancestors was directly tied to repairing, healing and reconciling the complexities of our relationship to nature. It was with these thoughts on my mind that I fell asleep and began to dream.
In the dream I’m sitting under the canopy of a huge Ceiba tree when I see a man walking towards me. As it is dream time my vision is slightly skewed but I see that he’s sharply dressed in a crisp black suit but as he comes closer I see a huge red stain on the front of his chest. As he gets closer to me I slowly begin to recognize his face and then it hits me, it’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. walking my way. I introduce myself and ask him to join me to have a seat on the Earth to feel the soil underneath our bodies and feet. Surprisingly, he agrees to stop, once he sits down I notice there are lines on his face and he looks a bit weary, his suit is covered with what looks like ash and there are blood stains on his shirt. But despite looking a bit tired and worn out there is a sparkle in his eyes.
And so he sits down next to me and here is what I heard in my dream conversation with Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1968 I began to hear of the struggles of Black sanitation workers in Memphis, workers struggling for safe working conditions, for a fair wage, for respect and acknowledgement of their value as human beings. You see, some people have the erroneous belief that because these poor Black men handled trash and waste that they were also garbage. They were being told that their lives didn’t have any value because like garbage they were disposable and as such should be satisfied with what they had and not stir the pot.

I went to the homes of these men and I noticed that they didn’t live far from the trash dump, that they had beautiful houses and gardens but their homes were surrounded by the waste of the entire city of Memphis. I began to think of the deep link between how trashing the Earth can easily lead to an easily lead to the ideology that people are trash as well.  What is the impact of this way of life and thinking on one’s spirit? And then my heart feels heavy because I begin to think if I live in the community where the public dump is located not only will my physical health suffer but my mental health as well. I may begin to think of myself as “garbage”. I mean why not, when the leaders of my community dump their garbage in my back yard, my role as a sanitation worker is devalue. I receive the lowest wages and work in terribly unsafe working conditions. If you understand the link between what we are doing to poison the planet then you begin to awaken to the fact that in order to trash the planet you have to trash people. I was committed to standing by the Memphis Sanitation Workers and their community. But little did I know at the time that this would be my last civil rights campaign as I would be assassinated in Memphis.
I took a deep breath taking in the weight of his words, and then I woke up.




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