Mahatma Gandhi once remarked, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I interpret these words to mean that we can all be agents of change regardless of class, color, age, nationality, gender, or intellectual ability. I recognized this very early in my childhood even though I was oblivious to Gandhi’s potent remark. Bombarded by the ubiquitous presence of poverty and violence, home for me was a two-bedroom house located in the ghetto of Spanish Town, Jamaica where nine family members lived including my mom and younger brother. I had no idea at the time of what it meant to have a television, refrigerator, or electricity for that matter until I was thirteen years old. It was during these early years of my life that the church became my bedrock as well as a place of refuge. I would retreat to the calm and peaceful sanctuary in order to experience solace during times when my home was inundated by discord and chaos.
My mother, a single parent and factory worker, believed that change was only possible if she could provide my brother and me with a good education. But “change” was interpreted to mean affluence and economic prosperity and I held firmly to this definition throughout high school. This imbedded ideology led me to study Business Administration in college thinking that after completing my studies, the poignant pain of poverty would end abruptly.
Unable to complete my final year of college because of lack of funds, I had to postpone my studies in order to seek full-time employment. After a couple of years had elapsed, I returned to obtain my degree that I sacrificed so much for. But my final year is etched in my memory because it was during this time that I wrestled agonizingly with the call to be a different kind of change. It was not the kind of change I anticipated and my family viewed it with skepticism. The ambition to ameliorate the economic situation of my family by following a particular path was proving to be illusive because I was now arrested by the call to ministry which I’ve ignored for most of my adolescent life.
In 2001, shortly after obtaining my first degree, I attended the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology which was the starting point of my theological education. It was during this time that I discovered that learning was actually fun and enjoyable as opposed to my undergraduate experience. I can recall numerous times when I was spellbound by my theology professors, Drs. Demarest and Noelliste. Not only were they incredibly brilliant, but they were passionate teachers and that passion piqued my interest in becoming a teacher as well.
As a result, I left Jamaica in 2004 to pursue my goals and fulfill God’s call and within two years I completed my Master of Divinity degree at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, Virginia Union University. If the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology provided the platform for my theological education, then, Virginia Union affixed the theme “social justice” to this platform. Even though there was a two year gap between the time I left Virginia Union and the time I enrolled at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, there was one particular experience during this period that gave me a glimpse of what my career might look like.
Because my student visa was about to expire and I was not financially able to start the Master of Theology program at Candler School of Theology in 2007, I deferred my application to the following year and returned to Jamaica to find employment so that I could save enough to pursue my education. I was afforded the opportunity to teach Hermeneutics at Jamaica Theological Seminary and being in the classroom for several months demonstrated the kind of impact I was capable of making on others. Without hesitation, I made my way back to the United States in 2008 and embarked on my journey at Candler, where I majored in theology in the one year Master of Theology program.
Virginia Union may have provided the scope, but Candler gave me the kind of focus I needed to make a contribution to the discourse on social justice. Consequently, the title of my master’s thesis was: “A Comparison of the Christological Conceptions in the Thinking of Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” Bonhoeffer was important because he had the courage to stand against oppressive powers and that kind of audacity was analogous to what Martin Luther King Jr. did whom I learned about in my Homiletics course at Virginia Union. Both men were inspired by the person of Jesus Christ who was not only the greatest agent of change but also the greatest advocate for freedom the world has ever known. The focus that Candler provided took me one step closer to my main goal.
I returned to Virginia in 2009 where I worked as a Homiletics and Systematic Theology Teaching Assistant at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology for two years before being called to pastor Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Bumpass, Virginia. The pastoral experience, however, has not only been an evolution of my thought process, but also a revelation of my vocational interest. I’ve come to see the practical dimensions of ministry at its very core which has enabled me to take a more pragmatic approach toward ministry and theology. Having the opportunity to engage my parishioners provided the perspective that helped me to understand the harsh human conditions that so many people have to grapple with in order to survive daily and the social structures that have been set up to negate their existence. Consequently, I recognized that the proclamation of the gospel must empower those who are oppressed and challenge the unjust systems that bring about oppression.
This experience of being a pastor has inspired me to become a practical theologian with homiletics being my focal point of interest. It is against this backdrop that I would like to propose as my research topic, “An Examination of the Christological Conceptions in the Preaching and Rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr.”
I am particularly drawn to the subject of Christology and the person of King because I grew up in a culture where Christ represents the core of my religious experience and King personifies the image of a freedom fighter like our national heroes and heroine. This heavy focus on Christ makes it almost impossible for me to write a project of this magnitude without choosing the area of Christology as my main research interest. My religious experience in Jamaica has been punctuated by the sermons, liturgy, testimonies and other forms of worship that set forth the person and life of Christ in the most expressive and endearing manner. As I journeyed in my Christian faith, I realized that it was a journey taken with members of my own faith community, whereby their influence and instruction assisted me to embrace Christ as the center of my life.
I view my yearning to continue my theological education in the Doctor of Philosophy program in the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University not only as a call to the academy, but another phase in my journey to serve humankind and be that agent for change that Gandhi spoke about. I am fully aware that my work is not confined to an individual professor but that it will be performed within a diverse environment of scholars who are specialists in their fields. Specifically, the practical preaching expertise of Drs. Tom Long and Teresa Fry-Brown would create an opportunity to study the significance of social justice and prophetic preaching from a biblical and theological viewpoint. Similarly, Dr. Noel Erskine’s knowledge of King’s theology would prove invaluable to my research when juxtaposed with Dr. Fry-Brown’s work and experience in the Black church.
Consequently, my research focus may require that I take courses in other disciplines within the GDR as well as within the consortium of theological schools. It is this interdisciplinary approach to graduate education that makes Emory’s GDR one of the leading institutions in the world. With its commitment and dedication to innovative and rigorous scholarship, as well as addressing pressing questions in relation to contemporary issues; I have no doubt that I will be well-equipped to make a positive contribution to the study of Homiletics, academy, and the church. My hope is that the admissions committee will view my application holistically by taking into account that I have demonstrated that I can excel in a rigorous graduate program.