Tuesday, July 19, 2016
I’ve been volunteering with the National Park Service at the MLK Memorial for more than a year now. I’m there for several hours most Mondays. I’ve met people from every continent that has more people than penguins.
People come to the space, I’m sure, with every imaginable expectation or none at all. Some are checking off another National Park site. Others are part of whirlwind DC tours. Some are not sure where they are, so I doubt they know why they are there. Some are, no doubt, searching for an elusive Pokemon.
But for some, whether they expect it or not, the granite on which they stand becomes holy ground for at least as long as it takes to snap a photograph – of somebody else’s loved ones.
I’m pretty sure that I have not gone an entire shift – even on slow days in January – when I didn’t see strangers help each other with photographs. I have noticed, over and over again, a particular understated joy that people of different hues find in helping each other take the standard souvenir shot beneath Dr. King’s unblinking gaze.
It’s an incredibly small thing of likely equally small consequence, but it is noticeable. I am willing to wager that few, if any, other public memorials witness as many white folks taking pictures of black folks or black folks taking pictures of white folks.
Yesterday I watched two families consecrate another such moment. I don’t know any back stories beyond the ten minutes I witnessed, but in those few minutes I watched a young white woman engage a young woman of color in conversation. Then I watched the young white woman introduce her new friend to her mother. Then the new friend introduced the white mother and daughter to her mother and folks I took to be another African-American mom-and-daughter pair. The six women – three young adults and three well-into-middle-age women – stood talking together for a couple of minutes, took their pictures, then they joined hands and prayed together for peace and reconciliation.
They shared hugs, and then the white pair got on the bikes and rode off toward the Roosevelt Memorial and the black folks headed off in the general direction of Mr. Lincoln. I handed out a few more brochures, and realized again that I was standing on holy ground.