Reflections on the CCDA Conference | Abby Deatherage 16

It was a glaringly bright Friday afternoon in Memphis, Tennessee, and all of a sudden, the world had gone silent. We were standing in front of the Lorraine Motel: the motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. In fact, we were standing directly under the room where he had been killed, a single wreath marking the balcony. As we stood in the sunshine, squinting up at room 306, I felt overwhelmed by a deep sense of  injustice and tragedy at the loss of a man who was the figurehead and orator for issues we still wrestle with today.

We continued through the Lorraine into what has now become the National Civil Rights Museum, taking a journey through the dawn of slavery and ending, after a long and winding walk, in the room where Martin Luther King, Jr. spent his final hours. We listened to his last speech, given just a few hours before he was killed:

“I have seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land! I’m not fearing any man…Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

What tragedy and yet, what hope and joy exist just in that kernel! There is no doubt in my mind that King knew he was going to die that day.

To me, the great sadness of knowing what happened and the great hope of the coming kingdom exist in tension there–and it’s a tension I found almost hourly during my time in Memphis. I and four UVa friends were attending the annual conference for the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). As we attended sessions and took notes and listened to incredible people, our hearts were broken over and over and over again.

For the injustices done to the American Indian population. For the students labeled in third grade as unsuccessful and expected to be incarcerated by the time they graduate. For the people in Israel/Palestine, living in fear and hoping for peace. For our nation’s broken immigration system, and the immigrants who are treated as subhuman commodities in this country. For the outrageous greed and racism in mass incarceration. For the structural racism and white supremacy built into this country’s constitution.

And, in a moment no one was expecting, for the people of Paris, the people of Beiruit, the students in Nairobi.

We cried, we prayed, we sang songs of lamentation. We allowed our hearts to be broken, over and over again.

And yet, we did not hesitate to celebrate the work that is being done. We celebrated teachers who are loving the children of the inner city, principals who care deeply about giving their students holistic education and care, organizations that care for immigrants and advocate for them in the court system. We learned tools for engaging our own communities on the topics of mass incarceration, American Indian injustices, immigration. We met people who are passionate and driven. And we found time for fun–trips to Beale Street, walking through Memphis, late-night drives across state borders.

 I’m thankful for the encouragement of people who think deeply, who allow their own hearts to be broken, and who act. I’m thankful for the glimpse of the Kingdom I was afforded; a brief glimpse into a Kingdom I want to be a part of.

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