Remembering Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian

Have you ever been asked to pray in front of a Civil Rights Icon? Almost 4 years ago, my wife and I had the privilege of joining the Vivian Family for Easter dinner. When the servers came to bring our appetizers to the table, Al Vivian asked if I would say the Easter Dinner Blessing over the food.

No pressure, right?! Not only is Easter the BIGGEST “holiday” in the Christian faith, but Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian is sitting next to me and I’ve got to pray over the food — talk about self-imposed pressure!

I guess deep down, I’ve always viewed Dr. Vivian as larger than life, and given his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement, he has to have this direct line to God! I sat and thought to myself, “Don’t mess this up or you’re letting your entire race and faith down.” So I bowed back and prayed theeee most articulate, spiritual, verbose prayer that anyone has heard over the food. I put my whole Holy Ghost into it.

Upon the “Amen” of my prayer, Al and DeAna Jo Vivian proceeded to burst out laughing. The following dialogue was absolutely life-changing:

Al & Jo:
(while laughing at the top of their lungs)

“We have been around you for I don’t know how many times to eat and you have NEVER prayed like that.”

Dr. C.T. Vivian: 
(speaking with a grin in a joking but lightweight serious way)

“That’s quite alright. This young man just has more respect and reverence for me — who he can see — than the One who is even more important than I that He cannot see.”

In just one moment, I received a lesson that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Even in the presence of great people, may we never forget the Greater One who lives on the inside of us. 

At the end of our meal, as we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, I noticed Dr. C.T. Vivian at the front door greeting people as he held the door for them in his 90s! It was such a prophetic moment. As people were coming through the door (even Black people), they greeted him like he was a “nice man” holding the door. I’m looking at them thinking, “DO YOU NOT KNOW WHO THIS IS WHO IS HOLDING THE DOOR FOR YOU?” 

At that moment, that’s when I “saw” C.T. Vivian. A man who selflessly gave his life to the Civil Rights Movement and in his 90s (even until the very end of his time on earth) “holding the door open” for all of us to continue to walk through. 

As we honor the life and legacy of not only Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian but also the Hon. John Lewis, may we pick up the baton of selfless, servant leadership and with our whole heart live a life that makes the world better as a result. Praying for the families, friends, and communities impacted by the seismic transition of these two giants. 

Marching Forward Together,

Vince Thomas, Jr.

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