The Light that Came Out of Darkness

By Ginger Young, founder and executive director

I remember what the Reverend Ralph Abernathy called “one of the darkest hours of mankind.”

It was April 1968, and I was five years old. Dinnertime in my Atlanta household was usually a time of joking and banter. This night, though, my parents somberly told my brothers and me that we would be having a guest come stay with us. A guest? That should be fun – but my dad seemed flattened, my mom was wiping away tears.

I asked Mom what was wrong. She said that something bad had happened to Dr. King, a man I had often heard them discussing and whose face I remembered from our morning newspaper. She said there would be a funeral and that people were coming from all over the world. We were sharing our home with one of those travelers.

I thought then that Dr. King was like Dr. Davis, the doctor I visited when I had a sore throat. He was so nice – why would anyone let anything bad happen to someone like him? It puzzled me.

My memories of the next few days are of an overwhelming, heavy sadness. Everyone seemed to talk in hushed tones and to walk as if in a fog. Our guest was a young man, a boxer, who had come a long way. Meals when he was there were nearly silent. He seemed heartbroken.

The counterbalance to that early memory of “one of the darkest hours of mankind” is what has become one of the shiniest days of my year. Every year, Book Harvest embraces Dr. King’s birthday as a time to celebrate the vast untapped potential in every child and to bring our community together in the sacred act of rounding up books to be shared freely with young readers.

This past Monday was the sixth Dream Big Book Drive on Dr. King’s birthday. This year, the event — like the five before it – dazzled me. Hundreds of book donors, thousands of books, crowds of people eager to volunteer to help ensure that every child in our midst is growing up in a book-rich home – I can never really know, but I like to imagine that Dr. King would have been proud of our community’s shared vision.

I am reminded a lot these days that with challenge comes opportunity. Even the darkest hours contain faint shimmers of light – and sometimes those shimmers grow to a solid, steady glow. MLK Day – a day when we remember the vision and legacy of Dr. King – brings together people who believe in equality of opportunity for all and who work toward a better world.

My early memory, even today so tinged with sadness, is joined by an immense gratitude for our collective hope for a better world. I saw it on Monday amidst mountains of books; and I heard it in the voices of my fellow volunteers as they sorted books and shared their own reflections on Dr. King. The light that came out of that darkness nearly fifty years ago is bright and vibrant and powerful and continues to carry us forward into an uncertain world.