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As well as being churchwarden at St Paul's Clapham, Denize Belingy has a career in the media in publicity and press relations. Here - from her sermon on 8th September - she shares with us her awakening to history, to greatness and to the evolving attitudes of people to her as a black woman, and to her partner, over the years.

Thank you, Ruth, for inviting me to speak to you today.  One of my greatest achievements in life was finding my voice. I think I truly discovered it when I was around 23/24 years of age, the start of my career in media.  It had always been there, of coursem but quietly in the background, and was more comfortable and better expressed on paper than vocally.

I’ve always been a telly-addict, my mum worked shift so TV/Radio became sort of a baby-sitter to my siblings and me. In 1978, I remember being glued to a 3-part mini-series aired by the BBC, entitled King. In those days, shows with black characters seemed like a big event, mum would call her friends; they would call her - so this was a big deal. I don’t think I’d heard of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. before this time, I was only 8, but he came alive. I think I believed he was running for president, but he certainly made a lasting impression.

In my formative years, my school (Burntwood nee Garratt Green) amalgamated with another local girls school, bringing a wave of new, exciting teachers. Listening to Capital and Radio 1 through my radio Walkman during lessons while pretending to lean on my hand  became a thing of the past. History became more interesting to me - Franco, Mussolini, WWII, slavery, Lincoln. 

But there was no Dr. King as I recall, if there was, it wasn’t as detailed as other significant historical subjects. By this time I was more clued up about the Civil Rights Movement (Malcolm X), The Kennedys (via another mini series and a love of Marilyn Monroe). But I did feel slightly cheated – but as I mention before, I didn’t have my voice, I never did raise my hand and ask why.

August 2013 marked 50 years since Revd. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood before 250,000 Americans in Washington and delivered his monumental “I Have a Dream” speech.  I’ve always thought of it as more of a sermon than a speech.  They were gathered to honour the centenary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to free African Americans. Dr. King Jr. argued that the freedom promise, never materialized. The organised March on Washington was an attempt to encourage all Americans, to recommit themselves to the original pledge. His speech - rooted in scripture (particularly in Revelation 7.9-10) - calls for a “Beloved community,” and remains a call to all peoples, to work for an impartial world.

Revelation 7 9-10 
“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

Dr. King has shown us that his dream for a “Beloved Community” will only become a reality in our lifetime if we commit ourselves to the ideals he held dear. But what would a ‘Beloved Community’ look like in 2013 and what would it mean for us globally, nationally and locally?  Will Putin suddenly tear up his new equality laws; the G20 could become more of a huge jolly, would there be no more calls for world leaders to intervene in other’s affairs…. 

I just celebrated 25 years with my partner; he and I, as an interracial have been on the receiving end comments due to our union. When we got together in 1988, two years before the end of Apartheid in South Africa. At one stage we even had to move out of our then property, our neighbours were black but were affronted by my choice of partner. Back then the police had told us that ‘Black people cannot be racist to white people’ and  simply dismissed us. I’m happy to say that attitudes from people and the law have moved on.

When I asked my 12-year-old daughter what she would want to take away from my talk today her answer was simply, 'how do we stop racial prejudice'.  As a child I remember reading an age-old bible with children of all nations sat in a circle on the grass clothed in white robes and linking hands. As an avid viewer of news and reader of some newspapers she is more than aware of the various global conflicts. Like Dr King, I would love to see the Beloved Community to become a reality but I pray that it will be achieved in my daughter's lifetime.

His life was cut short, but Dr King left a lasting legacy.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr
 “The glory of the lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”