The Sacred Feminine in action.

Climbing to the Mountaintop, Part 3

I believe Martin Luther King, Jr. left more than his legacy when he was murdered. I believe he left us a plan.

To be fair, I think this plan for social change was adapted from his study of Mahatma Gandhi and the methods of his successful civil resistance movement in India. King readily admitted to learning most of what he knew about civil disobedience, resistance and nonviolence from Gandhi. When describing the bus boycott in Montgomery in his autobiography by Clayborne Carson, King wrote, “Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method.”

The bus boycott, only the bus boycott
Dr. King’s official entrance into the civil rights movement started with the bus boycott in Montgomery in 1955. In his autobiography edited by Clayborne Carson, King writes about the first speech he gave the night the black citizens of Montgomery gathered to learn about the boycott resolution, “… I faced a new and sobering dilemma: how could I make a speech that would be militant enough to keep my people aroused to positive action and yet moderate enough to keep this fervor within controllable and Christian bounds?”

Besides creating a successful speech he had to get a consensus on a goal. “The resolution called upon the Negroes to not resume riding the buses until (1) courteous treatment by the bus operators was guaranteed; (2) passengers were seated on a first-come, first-served basis—Negroes seating from the back of the bus toward the front, whites from the front toward the back; (3) Negro bus operators were employed on predominantly Negro routes.”

A simple three-point resolution was their goal. Of course there wasn’t anything simple about planning alternative transportation, fund raising to keep the boycott going, bench marking other cities who had conducted boycotts, and keeping communication flowing to the black community. But the goal to reach the three-point resolution was focused and never wavered. He kept people committed to this one resolution for a year before they achieved the success of the Supreme Court declaration that bus segregation laws were unconstitutional. And according to Dr. King, it was a long year. He and members of the MIA committee were fined, jailed, doubted and shamed.  It wasn’t easy (simple does not correlate to easy). But it worked.

If you look at Dr. King’s path of success in the civil rights movement you consistently see simplicity, focus, commitment, and success. Then, simplicity, focus, commitment and a little bigger success. Rinse and repeat until you have the attention of the nation.

Global Healing Response
I have tried to apply this simple, direct, focused model to two initiatives I am involved in. The first is called The Global Healing Response. It is a planned, unified response by the labyrinth community to a disaster or emergency. (If you are not familiar with the labyrinth please click here to learn a little about this meditative tool. Also, please visit The Global Healing Response website to learn more about this initiative.)

I created the idea for the GHR after September 11th. In the days following the horrible event, our labyrinth community had the opportunity to offer healing, stress management and grief integration throughout the world, but we didn’t have a plan about what to do and how to do it. We were in shock with the rest of the world. So, my idea was to create a plan for healing that we could have in place before a disaster. That way, when something requiring a response, when people needed healing, we would whip into action in a unified way. I held on to the idea for a few years and one morning I woke up, told myself, “this will be the day I introduce it to the labyrinth community of facilitators” and did it. Little did I know that in two weeks I would implement the plan for Hurricane Katrina.

Though there were bugs to work out with that first response, we have implemented the plan several times over the past seven years. The operative word of this plan is SIMPLE. We create a date that we will hold a walk all over the world. We create a prayer that is read by each person walking. I send out a flyer template and a press release template to make life easier for the facilitators.

As we became accustomed to responding to disasters we realized it would be helpful to have an ongoing healing intention with our group. So, the GHR Quarterly was developed. Each year we create a theme and a focus for each quarter of the year. A “lesson” plan is made up to give ideas for an intentional labyrinth walk and facilitators are encouraged to hold an event with the intention of that quarter. Very simple, and hopefully very powerful.

Now, I have created a website and would like other healing modalities to join our model.

Sacred Ground Ministries
The second initiative I have been a part of is the creation of Sacred Ground Ministries. This group was formed when my friend Mary Long’s son was shot to death on the South side of Chicago on March 12, 2012. I had met Mary in the DuPage County jail in 2001 when I was conducting labyrinth walks in the jail. She was released in 2002 and has done wonderful things with her life.

As Mary and I have developed Sacred Ground Ministries we often refer back to Dr. King’s work. We both want this movement to be grounded in love, effectiveness and most importantly change. The gun violence in Chicago is horrible and getting worse. The problem is so complicated. It is easy to feel overwhelmed.

It’s also easy to come up with ideas that take us in all directions. But, Sacred Ground members are committed to staying focused, keeping our actions simple and creating success that will have momentum. Our first event in August was a vigil, march and labyrinth walk in the Grand Crossing park. We offered healing to the people who had been affected by gun violence in the neighborhood where Eric was shot. (Click here to see a YouTube video about the event.) It was our first success. We have decided to keep our work in the Grand Crossing neighborhood and hopefully create a model for change—one neighborhood at a time. Until we have the attention of the city.

So, as I mentioned in the second part of this three-part post, I often feel Dr. King’s spirit around me. Hopefully, this work would make him proud. And as I mentioned in part one of the post, I think that Dr. King created the Sacred Feminist “toolbox.” You could say he also created the Sacred Feminist “blueprint,” right?

I hope that you feel inspired to devise a plan for change. Everyone has the ability to make a difference. I like to say, if a straw can break a camel’s back, I can be a straw! So can you. Let me know how Dr. King’s tools and blueprint work for you.

3 Responses to “Climbing to the Mountaintop, Part 3”

  1. Duncan Newcomer says:

    The week of blogs is just great. So clear and to the point. The spirit in King is here and it IS bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice! I heard King speak at Riverside Church in NYC on April 4th a year to the day before he died, and I still feel that voice and hear it again here.

  2. Karen Brennan says:

    If it were not for you, Ellen, I would not have gone to the MLK celebration this past Monday. It was amazing, you did a fabulous job, and my kids walked away with something very memorable. Thank You! I completely enjoyed your series on Dr. King this week. I have been a student of Gandhi for years, and while I have been extremely inspired by MLK I have not taken as much time to study all that he has done. You have rekindled my desire to do so!


  1. Kate Skegg: Dare to Dream: Get Educated! | Sacred Feminist - [...] about this model the AAUW has created. (You can read more about why I love effective models in my…

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