Several years ago, my friend John and his wife Kelly named their son Nelson. When I asked John where the name came from, he shared that they had both wanted to name the child after someone who inspired them, and since Nelson Mandela was a hero to them, they decided he was also a worthy namesake for their beloved child. I remember being inspired by that message—“Yes, yes,” I thought! Naming a child after someone inspiring, a truly important and landmark figure, calls forth that child’s inner beauty and joy! I wanted to do that, too!
When my husband Dave and I were told we were expecting a boy halfway through my second pregnancy, the naming process began and I knew I wanted to follow John’s and Kelly’s lead. For me, it was much harder naming our second child. And since I was due in mid-July, I began to get a bit panicked in mid June when we didn’t yet have a name. But on June 23, 2013, one name stood out among the rest. It was the 50th anniversary of the “Walk to Freedom” march and speech which occurred in Detroit and the media was all abuzz recalling how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recited his first “I have a dream” speech here in our beloved city, almost 2 months prior to the famous exhortation in Washington, D.C.
Martin—now that was a name I could get behind. Martin—solid, unique and with just a touch of formality. Martin—a name honored because of the witness given by MLK, Jr. to the call for justice and community. On this MLK Day, I will celebrate the man who I first started to study during my undergraduate days at Boston College. And what do I know of him? Actually, I know quite a bit of his writings and some of his personal background. He was known by his friends for his quick wit, robust laugh and passionate preaching. We studied in the same city while pursuing our M.Div degrees, MLK at Boston University and me at Weston Jesuit (now part of Boston College). I have heard from several scholars that we have lost a sense of the real MLK because he has become ‘sanitized’ by our media and by a history record that only wants heroes to be perfect. But that’s the thing—I wasn’t seeking perfection for my son’s namesake, only passion!
MLK fought against racial segregation, injustice that encumbered low-wage workers and war. He was a man of great conviction and demonstrated time and again that he was willing to act and put his own body on the line, when necessary. He was a thinker, a philosopher, a husband, father and friend. I admire his passion and I feel motivated whenever I read his writings. Recently, I had a chance to review some of my favorite passages of MLK’s writings as my husband and I prepared for our son’s baptism. We both wanted a short passage to be read at our son’s baptism as a reflection of the inspiration that could come from MLK. It’s taken from his work, “An Experiment in Love”.
“Agape means understanding redeeming good will for all men. It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object. It is the love of God operating in the human heart. Agape is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It doesn’t stop at the first mile but it goes the second mile to restore community. I can only close the gap in a broken community by meeting hate with love.”
When I read this passage again and again, I think of the needs of the city in which we are raising our children, Liam and Theodore Martin (Theo). The news covers Detroit’s problems rather well but there is still more need and more pain. Unemployment and poverty are so high and all around us are signs of an urban core that has been allowed to disintegrate. During a recent snow storm, I was beyond angry that our streets had not been plowed of the almost 12 inches of snow and our family’s cars were getting stuck! I wanted to move to some comfy suburb where city services are quick and help is abundant! And yet, then I remember the words from Dr. King, calling to me now as real as he did when he spoke here 50 years ago, encouraging everyone to “preserve and create community” through “love in action”. I feel that Dave and I are trying to do our part by being present to this city, being a good neighbor, joining in service opportunities and raising our children to be kind, engaged and aware. It’s tough and yet, it feels like the right place to be.
As for Theodore Martin, my son, and his namesake: I always ask MLK to look upon him with a special attention to call forth whatever talents and treasures might be present there. I believe that MLK was a man of integrity, determination, grit and deep, abiding joy. I celebrate his life today, and every day when I look at my son. As for MLK’s legacy, I believe it is his call to all of us to live each day with more complete and authentic agape. I accept this challenge and hope that my parenting efforts can help inculcate this call within our sons’ awareness, also!
Carrie Nantais, M.Div., MA, currently lives in Detroit, MI with her husband, David, and two sons, Liam (age 6) and Theo (age 3). She is completing her PhD in Clinical Psychology in May, 2017. Her areas of interest include: integration of spirituality and psychology, forgiveness, trauma and resiliency and women’s health issues. When she takes care of herself, she enjoys yoga, being creative, singing loudly in the car and laughing with her family.