Wisdom to Know the Difference

(This is the first post in a 3-part series about this year’s Caldecott, Newbery, and Coretta Scott King winners, and what these children’s books can teach us about conscious living)

Most of us know the Serenity Prayer. Say it with me:          

God grant me…

            Serenity to accept the things I cannot change

            Courage to change the things I can, and

            Wisdom to know the difference

I have often wondered: How do we access the wisdom to know the difference?

This is where the Civil Rights Movement can teach us a thing or two – and in particular, the unsung heroine featured in Carole Boston Weatherford’s beautiful new picture book, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement (Candlewick Press 2015).

One of Hamer’s cherished ideas was that Civil Rights was inherently a spiritual movement. That’s actually how she came to prominence. By ringing out gospel songs at rallies, she raised the vibration of the activists. A leader from the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) recruited her to their ranks by asking around for “the lady who sings the hymns.”

In Hamer’s case, it was spiritual wisdom that taught her it was time to act, rather than serenely accepting her life circumstances as something she could not change. This was no small feat for a sharecropper living in the U.S. South in the 1950s. As a poor black woman, she had (at least) three strikes against her.

It’s difficult for us to imagine that it takes courage to register to vote, because we’ve always been able to do so. Yet for Hamer, it cost her a job, her only source of income. Her activism for voter rights among Blacks in Mississippi also earned her a severe police beating.

Hamer was famous for saying: “Hard as we work for nothing, there must be some way we can change things… There must be something else.” But if she knew nothing else, where did the knowledge of a “something else” come from?

The answer is intuition. When the law is unjust, the loudest voices around you will shout that you are “doing the wrong thing” when you buck the system.  Hamer had to go within to find her own notions of “wrong” and “right” – and then trust that inner voice.

It’s appropriate that her trademark song was “This Little Light of Mine,” because the light represents our own intuition. And when we can truly tune into that, we will never be led wrong.

Here are a few things Hamer did while following that light:

·         Gave a nationally televised speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention

·         Got elected as a national party delegate in 1972

·         Ran for Congress twice, mainly to show that she could

·         Co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus

·         Helped start a Head Start preschool program in her community

The Serenity Prayer is essentially about time; it’s about “wait” or “go.” This is always a spiritual choice.

Here’s what Martin Luther King had to say about the idea that “change will come with time:”

“…time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively…Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God [or] time itself becomes an ally of …social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”          

How did he know this? It’s what his intuition told him.


The 411 about the book...Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement is a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book. Debut illustrator Ekua Holmes also won a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award for her artwork. Although it is a picture book, I recommend it for older children (ages 8-10), since it is text-heavy. The timeline at the back is a wonderful resource on the Civil Rights movement as a whole. Besides answering the call for more diversity in children’s literature, this book also teaches what it means to live by spiritual wisdom (over the letter of the law).
MLK quote from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
Featured illustration by Ekua Holmes.

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