Dr. Vincent Harding has passed away, and when we say the overly used adage of “gone but not forgotten,” I think we really mean it.
Upon moving to Denver and beginning nonprofit work, I learned about a man who had worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and assisted with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and now he was here, continuing to share important stories of healing and reconciliation. In entering my first year of graduate school, I was fortunate enough to get to meet this gentle soul. A man who spoke slowly and addressed everyone warmly, a man who still wore activist pins on his lapel – he strode into a room and you could not help but feel the visceral power that followed.
My favorite Dr. Harding story only involves him indirectly. A fellow graduate student and I had briefly spoken with him as he walked past us, sharing his warm “And how are you doing today, Alison?” When he was out of earshot, the student looked at me and said “I’m so embarrassed. The first time I met him, I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe I was in his presence!” We laughed about it, and I still laugh about it. No doubt was she not the first to do this, and upon learning of his works and hearing his profound words, she will not be the last to feel his presence that throbs in the brick and mortar of the buildings he inhabited.
With the fortune of having him guest lecture in multiple classrooms and being able to work alongside him with my former employer, I got to know just a fragment of the incredible person that was Dr. Harding. I don’t know a single Iliffian who didn’t meticulously take notes and close their laptops when he entered a space. We were so fortunate that he spoke slowly, eloquently, and very much on purpose with a cadence that matched note-taking. I would love to meet a student who was lucky enough to have him in a class that didn’t quote him as much as possible.
As my dear friend Laura has just shared with me, she wrote down the last thing he said to her while guest lecturing in a class, and it could not be more fitting as we begin to say our farewells to the powerful presence that is Dr. Vincent Harding:
Everything that brings new life, comes at a cost. Dying is necessary for the living to take place. This is part of the reason that we have to help each other. Don’t be afraid. And if you are afraid, don’t let fear stop you.
Thank you, Dr. Harding.