The Commercial Appeal

Dr. Henry Logan Starks’ wise words: ‘You are somebody!’

- ROSALYN NICHOLS

“You are somebody!” The words of Dr. Henry Logan Starks have faded from the halls of Memphis Theologica­l Seminary. But they are needed now, perhaps more than ever. In the shadow of MLK Day and on the heels of inaugurati­on, at a time of concern about the peaceful transition of power, many in our nation feel overlooked, cast aside, or unimportan­t. Dr. Starks’ words remind us of our collective, inherent worth.

Those who heard these words still glow with affirmatio­n; a warm, sacred knowledge that—whoever they are, whatever class or station—they are somebody. Their life matters. Their life is important. They can play a vital role in shaping our history.

Rev. Dr. Henry Logan Starks was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis, and a man who worked to make the beloved community a reality. Upon his death, local newspapers described Dr. Starks as a leader “…in the elite class with Dr. (Martin Luther) King, A. Phillip Randolph and Medgar Evers.”

Lovingly remembered as a “gentle giant,” he was a man whose powerful figure was dwarfed by a magnitudin­ous faith and a tireless drive to uplift and empower others.

As pastor of St. James AME Church and Memphis Theologica­l Seminary’s first African-American professor, Dr. Starks exemplifie­d excellence in theologica­l education and service. He would greet everyone — students, congregant­s, friends — with the same reminder (an exhortatio­n), “You are somebody!”

Though he is gone from this earth, Dr. Starks’ impact continues to multiply. For more than three decades, the Dr. Henry Logan Starks Scholarshi­p at Memphis Theologica­l Seminary has helped deserving students pursue an education without financial burden. Each year in February, the Seminary celebrates individual­s who embody Dr. Starks’ commitment to do justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly with their God at the Dr. Henry Logan Starks Scholarshi­p and Award Celebratio­n.

This year marks the 30th anniversar­y of that event — a powerful testament that Dr. Starks’ legacy is alive and well.

His voice may be silent, but his affirmatio­n rings loud and clear.

There is a myth that great leaders emerge only so often, that they are rare or extraordin­ary individual­s — born to succeed, destined for greatness. We have the tendency to idolize and idealize people who achieve or inspire beyond what we believe is possible.

But Dr. Starks understood that every person has leadership potential.

Here’s what I know: on this day in America, some of you feel full of hope. Some of you feel hopeless.

I’m here to tell you now — whoever you are, however you feel — that you are somebody.

You can be a drum major in the walk to a brighter future. And if Dr. Starks could see you now, I know he’d recognize that you are somebody bursting at the seams with potential! “You are somebody!” You are somebody. Don’t ever forget it. The Rev. Dr. Rosalyn Nichols is pastor of Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church and the executive director of the Dr. Henry Logan Starks Institute for Faith, Race, and Social Justice at Memphis Theologica­l Seminary.

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