Find unity amid diversity, White says

2/1/2006

By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor

Certain characteristics make each person or group of people unique.

However, everyone shares certain characteristics, and finding those common traits is what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would encourage Americans to do today, a retired United Methodist bishop said Jan. 16.

Bishop Woodie White spoke at a service celebrating the life of King, who was the face of the civil rights movement until he was assassinated in 1969. The service was part of a joint celebration involving Millsaps College and Tougaloo College held on King’s birthday.

“Every now and again, we must step away from particularity and investigate commonality,” said Theon Johnson, president of the Millsaps student body. “Transcending differences will ultimately allow people to realize that we are more alike than different. The realization of humanity’s levels of commonality can come to pass only if people are willing to work together.”

“Unless we find a common purpose that binds us together,” White told the audience at Millsaps, “tribal hostilities will drive us apart. Dr. King would remind us to find common ground in our diversity.”

White used an illustration from his childhood to show how different groups can come together for common good. He said each Monday his mother took leftovers from the previous week and made soup. She included white potatoes, black-eyed peas, red tomatoes, okra and other vegetables. The soup would cook all day. When it was served, White said, the potatoes were still potatoes and tomatoes still tomatoes but they had also changed a bit.

“Each did something to the other,” White said. “Each added something. The soup was better for what each had to bring.”

Johnson, a senior from Canton and a member of Canton United Methodist Church, pointed out that White also said King’s work isn’t finished. “I can sit at the same lunch counter as someone and eat my meal. So what? I can pay a bus fare and sit anywhere on the bus that I desire. So what?” Johnson said.

Chelsi West, a Millsaps sophomore from Jackson, said White’s remarks will help refocus her efforts at community service. “I gained a different perspective on the idea of service and what I’m doing for others,” she said. “From now on, I want my motivation for helping others to originate from a desire to serve, without recognition. Dr. King would have served, not because it made him look good, but because people were in need and he could provide.”

Doing that, White said, will continue King’s legacy. He challenged those in attendance to strive to make their campuses, communities, states and nation better. Johnson said he believes Millsaps fosters that attitude.

“I believe that the Millsaps College community is taking steps towards creating well-informed members of society,” he said. “Formal education without any bearing with the real world is simply information.”

In addition to White’s speech, the service included music from the Millsaps Chamber Singers, the Tougaloo Dance Ensemble and Anointed Voices of G.R.A.C.E.