Greeting becomes a challenge

Published 10:07pm Tuesday, January 10, 2012

This greeting was shaping up as a real challenge. There was a time challenge, a subject challenge and a content challenge. I was scheduled to provide greetings for the 149th Annual Emancipation Proclamation Program on New Year’s Day in Selma. It would be a real challenge. The greeting could not be long. I feel strongly that it is inconsiderate to keynote speakers to give long greetings. Therefore, the greeting had to be short.

The subject was a challenge. I wanted to focus on the contributions made by black people to their own liberation from slavery because this fact is nearly always left out of Emancipation Proclamation Programs. This subject is very appropriate for a speech on such an occasion but not for a greeting. I knew that this could not be the usual greeting.

There was a lot to say. However, I had to limit the content because time was limited. I had to choose the most important points and stick to them. In addition, I could not speak on areas that the speaker might cover. Each limitation on my greeting made it difficult but all three posed a huge challenge. This is how I tried to meet that challenge. I made short shift of the acknowledgments. I greeted every one as “my brothers and sisters” which includes everybody. I quickly but specially acknowledged the speaker, the mistress of ceremony, the Mayor of Selma and all leaders whether elected or appointed. In my rush, I forgot to acknowledge the pastor of the church (that’s a no-no). Here is some of what I tried to say.

I greet you on behalf of the State of Alabama, which did everything possible to keep your ancestors in slavery. I greet you in the spirit of the 200,000 Black men who fought in the Civil War as soldiers. I greet you in the spirit of excellence acknowledged by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who said that black soldiers fighting in the Civil War were the “bravest of the brave.” I greet you in the spirit of the enslaved black people who gave life to the Emancipation Proclamation with their feet. I greet you in the spirit of truth and knowledge because when black people know that their ancestors helped free themselves, they will also know that they can help free themselves from whatever binds them today.

A person who is very close to me said, “I can’t believe you got all those points in within three minutes.” It was a challenge. I hope I succeeded in giving the appropriate greeting on this occasion.

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