Remembering Julian Bond

On Saturday August 22, 2015, the family and friends of Julian Bond gathered at bodies of water across the world to release flowers in his honor. They encouraged others who wished to honor his memory to organize a flower release in their communities as well.

I note that the request was not to simply release flowers into a body of water. Pointedly, the request was to organize in the community to do so.

Even this final tribute was a lesson and exercise in working together to achieve a desired and laudable goal.

The last time that I spoke with Julian Bond we were at the book signing of a colleague. He greeted me with a smile and the comment: "Yes, I remember you well."

We chuckled at the joke. He could not possibly have remembered me. Our encounters would have been only brief: a nod of acknowledgment reserved for everyone he passed on the street, perhaps being introduced as one of dozens in a meeting or, as was the case here, sharing an overlapping circle of colleagues and friends that created the illusion of kinship, if not the reality.

He wasn't mocking me. The joke was a genuine and gracious willingness to make space and time for yet another in a long line of admirers.

However, Julian Bond had the greatest impact on me when he didn't know that I existed.

I was one of hundreds of students seated in the audience at the College of Wooster decades ago listening to his keynote address. I no longer remember the precise occasion for the event. But I do remember the electric excitement of anticipation in the room.

He spoke about founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, his opposition to the Vietnam War, structural inequality and racism with a command of the facts and history that I had not encountered before.

He was irreverent, provocative and funny. He pushed the envelope and a few buttons. He offended some. But that too was the point.

He was pulling us out of our well-intentioned comfort zone based on notions of "nobles oblige." He was pressing us to embrace a more complex and comprehensive understanding of equality and justice for all.

By the time I sat listening to Julian Bond's remarks, I had already decided to work for social justice. But his talk transformed my intellectual desire into a fire in the belly and an uncompromising passion.

He was, of course, a fierce opponent of capital punishment. He was outspoken and unapologetic when, unlike now, support for the death penalty was overwhelming.

He could be counted on to add the luster of his light to a call to spare the life of the most despised and lonely among us. He called for reforms when political expediency dictated to others: steer clear.

Ever the poet, his final tribute is more than an object lesson in civic engagement. It is also a metaphor.

I remember the boisterous standing ovation that we gave Julian Bond at the end of his remarks. I remember thinking that I would never see the world the same way again.

I was sure he was speaking directly to me--as we all were.

How many of the hundreds of us did he release into the world to end poverty, hatred, inequality and to strive for peace? How many of us walked more humbly and kindly, determined to cultivate good whatever the path we traveled?

How many more flowers will each of us release?

Dearest brother yes, I remember you well.