In honor of Black History Month, I want to remember an accomplished African-American who not only shaped our world for the better, but also shaped my life, too. I think we need to take the time to remember these everyday heroes– those who truly blessed the world even if their names are not emblazoned in the history books.
Today, I am remembering and honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Mack Statham (September 24, 1934-September 2, 2013). Dr. Statham, or “Dr. Mack” as he was fondly called, was at heart a church musician. I met and befriended him while I served at First United Methodist Church of Laurel. He was a quiet, gentle, and warmly personable man, and yet he possessed an almost unstoppable energy to play prolific music every Sunday, even while his health was failing. He took the time to help anyone further their own musical expressions, especially in worship. He was an accomplished classical pianist and organist, but far from being a diva, he was an accessible, down-to-earth musician who could work with anyone under any circumstance. His approach to music and people, given his tremendous gifts, was marked by an uncanny, Christ-like love and patience. In my eyes, he was a humble giant of a man.
Dr. Mack was born and raised in Baltimore as one of seven children. The Stathams are a musical family, and so quite naturally, Dr. Mack began taking piano lessons as a child. He excelled in music and later graduated from Hampton University with a degree in music education. (He was later honored with an honorary doctorate degree from his alma mater.) He taught music in several school systems, was a veteran of the Korean War, and was a successful businessman, too.
He also spent his adult life as a church musician and music director with several churches in the Baltimore-Washington area: Metropolitan UMC in Baltimore, Asbury UMC in Washington, D.C., and First UMC in Laurel. Dr. Mack never did truly retire. In fact, he played the organ at First UMC on a Sunday morning and died that night. He truly lived out all of his days doing exactly what God had created and called him to do.
But I believe Dr. Mack’s greatest vocational accomplishment was his ability to unite whole communities of people around the gift of music.
Dr. Mack was not only a world-class musician, but he was also a prolific composer. His hallmark composition was “Trilogy of Dreams” in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He wrote it for a mass choir, two pianos, an organ, and a small orchestra. Here’s the beauty of this music: it united so much of the Laurel, MD community, black, white, different denominations, Christians, Jews, politicians, and anyone else who attended what became a yearly event called “Sing for King” on the Sunday of MLK weekend. During the six years I participated in “Sing for King” as a member of the choir, I was awed by the power of one man and his music to gather a wide diversity of the Laurel community. For one day, there was no separation of white and black, Jew and Christian, religious and non-religious, and even church and state. We were one people. The bonds these yearly events created were long-lasting.
Dr. Mack demonstrated that things as simple as music and love can unite people and form new relationships of trust and cooperation. All it took was one person with a vision, good friends, a lot of persistence, and grace to make it happen. In that way, not only did Dr. Mack advocate for peace, equality, and justice, he made it happen by offering the best of himself.
That’s an example we all could carry on.
As for me, Dr. Mack instilled many valuable lessons that shaped my life in the 6 years I knew him while serving as pastor of First UMC in Laurel. Here are a few of those lessons:
- Whatever you commit to do, give it your all. Avoid half measures.
- Whatever you commit to do, do it with excellence, striving for perfection. Avoid any notion of “good enough”.
- Make the time to invest in someone else’s growth. Every person is worth our time because they, too are a gift.
- Do what you love, and don’t stop, no matter the struggle.
- Slower with excellence is far better than faster and sloppy.
- Practice, practice, practice… It’s the only way to get better.
- Trust God above all things and believe in yourself. No, that’s not a contradiction. (Dr. Mack showed how that is possible.)
- Use your gifts wherever they are needed, no matter how small or seemingly trivial. It makes a difference.
As I write this, I miss my good friend very much. Mack, as I called him, was a rare gift, one of those few people I’ve met who profoundly impacted me for the better. For all the reasons he has touched my life and the lives of thousands of others, Dr. Mack Statham is worthy to be remembered and honored during this Black History Month. May we all live his kind of legacy to the glory of God and the blessing of others.