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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

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Change and Hope Come from the Margins

by Krista Tippett, host

I can only urge you to listen to this wise voice of history and its deep resonance for the contemporary world. Vincent Harding uses the word “magnificent” often and he embodies that word.

He offers an essential and utterly helpful perspective, I feel, to our ongoing collective reflection on civility, moral imagination, and social healing. He was a friend and speechwriter of Martin Luther King Jr. and a force in the philosophy of nonviolence that drove the civil rights movement’s success. That is to say, he was at the center of a moment of human and societal transformation that was wrested from another American era of toxic division and social violence. And Vincent Harding has continued to mine the lessons of that time in the intervening decades, and to bring them creatively and usefully to young people today.

These are stories we rarely see or hear, and they are happening in neighborhoods in places like Detroit and Philadelphia where our lens is usually focused on despair and decay.

"We Shall Overcome" (1964)

So among other things — interestingly, from a very different direction, echoing my conversation with Frances Kissling — Vincent Harding reminds us that change and hope come from the margins. And he has stories to tell about that hope as it’s embodied and lived on the margins of today.

This is also a beautiful hour of production — rich with the music by which people, as Vincent Harding puts it, did not merely demonstrate but “sang” their way to freedom in the 1960s. You will never hear the song "This Little Light of Mine" or the phrase "a Kumbaya moment" in the same way again. Enjoy, and be enriched.

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You’ll Never Hear Kumbaya the Same Way Again

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

There are a few moments from behind the glass that stop me dead in my tracks — times during an interview when a wise voice creates a new opportunity to hear something differently. To challenge a conceit. To envelop the listener in the womb of silent storytelling and place one in a position of listening profundity. Vincent Harding did just that.

In the audio above, the theologian and speechwriter for Martin Luther King Jr. creates that vulnerable opening and ever so gently corrects, without admonishment, when the “Kumbaya” is referred to as a soft and squishy moment of song:

"We Shall Overcome" (1964)"Whenever somebody jokes about "Kumbaya," my mind goes back to the Mississippi summer experience where the movement folks in Mississippi were inviting co-workers to come from all over the country, especially student types to come and help in the process of voter registration and freedom school teaching and taking great risks on behalf of that state and of this nation. …

In group after group, people were singing:

Kumbaya. “Come by here my Lord. Somebody’s missing Lord. Come by here.”’

I could never laugh at kumbaya moments after that. Because I saw that almost no one went home from there. This whole group of people decided that they were going to continue on the path that they had committed themselves to and a great part of the reason why they were able to do that was because of the strength and the power and the commitment that had been gained through that experience of just singing together, Kumbaya.”

I know I’ve used this this reference to a “kumbaya moment” in a slightly pejorative way. This no longer holds true. I can no longer judge using this label. Let Vincent Harding’s story be a lesson for us all.

We’re producing the radio show now and it’ll be released on February 24th.

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