I delivered this speech for Donaldson Chapel Baptist Church’s STAR Sunday Service on June 5, 2016 in Baton Rouge, LA.
Good morning. First, giving reverence and honor to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I recognize that I am nothing without his grace and mercy. To Pastor Gipson, Mrs. Gipson and the wonderful officers and members of this incredible congregation, I thank you all for the opportunity to address you this morning. I will never be able to express enough gratitude for the support and encouragement that you all provided to me during law school. No matter how far I venture from Baton Rouge, Donaldson Chapel will always be my church home in south Louisiana. Let us pray.
Lord, consecrate us now unto thy service. As I speak to these your people, I ask that you decrease Andrew Hairston and allow the Holy Spirit to step in and deliver a message from your Holy Word. We give you all honor and praise. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
What a glorious day we are experiencing. We have come here to celebrate the graduates and promotees of the Class of 2016. These young, Black and gifted disciples of Christ persevered through numerous odds to arrive at the present, joyous moment. During a time in history in which the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ is often articulated to assert the humanity of our people, your accomplishments emerge as that much more amazing and inspiring. Graduates and promotees, your Donaldson Chapel family is extremely proud of you, and we will always be here to laud your successes and uplift you during times of adversity.
There is certainly a word from God for this monumental day. If you will please open your Bibles to the sixteenth chapter of 1 Samuel, we can see the divine inspiration that God can offer to these impressive young men and women. 1 Samuel 16: 1; 7; 10-13. I will read from the KJV. Please stand if you are able.
The origin of King David offers a great deal of context for the young members of our congregation who are preparing to embark upon new journeys in pursuit of higher heights in their educations. Let us attempt to step into his shoes to understand how the Lord anoints us to fulfill special tasks and purposes in life.
Envision yourselves as a young David. Admittedly, this is a bit difficult for me because I’m the oldest of two. Imagine that you are at your home on any given weekend and you’re completing your regularly assigned chores. I doubt that any of us can directly relate to tending to sheep as King David did, but we can substitute that activity with tasks like washing the dishes, taking out the trash or cleaning a room. Everything seems normal, and then a visitor arrives to inform you of your destiny – one that hadn’t been previously dreamed of or imagined.
The visitor tells you that you are meant to lead the nation, become an influential artist, solve a vexing world health challenge or write the next American masterpiece. This is the equivalent of what unsuspecting David encountered on the day that Samuel visited him.
This story demonstrates the sheer power of the Lord. The special call upon David’s life had not been predicted by anyone until Samuel physically saw him and recognized the presence of a king. David’s beginning, as alluded to earlier, has special significance for us as we progress through the twenty-first century.
We have descended from a people of great might and resilience. Our ancestors faced brutal forms of psychological and physical violence, yet we have emerged as manifestations of their prayers. The spirit of David resonates within each of us; through all of the struggles that we have individually and collectively faced, we have been presented with opportunities that our parents and grandparents never fathomed. So many examples in our history indicate that the Lord has acted in Samuel’s capacity to select young men and women to accomplish truly inspirational things.
To paint this picture, let us consider the stories of a young boy from Kentucky, a young girl from Ohio and another young boy from Hawaii.
A young boy is born in Louisville, KY in 1942. His parents don’t have much, but they instill in him principles of hard work and Black pride. He grows up to be one of the most revered athletes of the twentieth century, and he becomes a significant source of political protest co-extensively. His name was Muhammad Ali.
A young girl is born in Lorain, OH in 1931. She too is born into a family of modest means, but she quickly discovers the power of the written word and uses it to formulate stories. Using her childhood in Ohio as her foundation, she went on to write over 10 novels and win both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her name is Toni Morrison.
A young boy is born in Honolulu, HI in 1961. His mother was white, and his father was Kenyan. He ultimately became the first Black president of the Harvard Law Review and the first Black president of our nation. His name is Barack Obama.
I doubt that these three formidable American heroes imagined, when they were children, that they would become who they were destined to be. Just as David tended to sheep, young Muhammad Ali listened to his father tell him about Marcus Garvey, young Toni Morrison avidly read many novels and young Barack Obama assisted his mother with looking after his younger sister as he ventured to far-away destinations like Indonesia.
Like our graduates and promotees, they were simply normal kids with large aspirations and strong networks of support. God extended countless protections and blessings to us as soon as we were born. As we grew older and confessed Christ as our Savior, the Lord acknowledged our commitment and mapped out special plans for each of us.
As I look out upon these brilliant and inquisitive faces, I see King David. I see Muhammad Ali. I see Toni Morrison. I see Barack Obama. I also know that I am observing faces that will go forward and innovate how our society approaches science, law, the arts and many other fields. Through your continued faith in the Lord and the consultation of your church family during hard times, you will ascend to the top of the highest mountain peaks.
As I prepare to close, I must leave our graduates and promotees with one more thought. Through the effective development of Christian education at Donaldson Chapel, you all have learned a great deal about social justice and the importance of continuing the civil rights struggles initiated by our forebears. As you discern what your path will be through the use of prayer, always keep the notion of social justice in the front of your minds.
As a people, we have achieved a number of successes through the history of the United States, but there are many battles that still remain. I urge each of you to fortify your spirits with the full armor of God and wage the fight for full justice and equality. Do so with a realization of the sacrifices of those who came before you and with a special fervor for those who will follow you. Strive to spread the gospel of Christ and the idea of Black pride in all that you do.
When the journey gets tough, as it undoubtedly will, remember how King David patiently tended to the sheep, completely unaware of the grand destiny that awaited him. Each of you will meet and exceed what King David did during his life. The love of Christ empowers you, and your church family will arduously offer guidance and encouragement along the path.
I extend a sincere congratulatory wish to each of you, and I am extremely excited to witness the positive impact that you will leave upon the world. And if you ever encounter anyone who doubts your greatness, recall today’s scripture, particularly verse 7 – ‘man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.’
May God infinitely bless each of you. Go forward in power. Amen.