A Lifelong Learner: Love and nonviolence have been ongoing lessons for Dr. Mel Glenn
Mel Glenn rode his bicycle from Ensley to 16th Street Baptist Church on May 2, 1963, joining other young people as they marched in peaceful protest down the streets of downtown Birmingham to meet unwarranted arrest. He escaped on his bike, only to return the next day as his peers faced police dogs and fire hoses. The more than five-mile journey had become familiar territory for Glenn. He had observed the movement’s organizing meetings in North Birmingham and downtown, reporting back to his friends about the planned demonstrations. The example set by the movement’s leaders, particularly by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, not only taught Glenn the importance of peaceful protest and brotherly love, but also the power of clearly communicating your message.
“These men firmly believed in education — that it was a way out,” says Glenn. That message, paired with their personal commitment, has been a source of ongoing inspiration for Glenn. “It was a very contentious time, but then we saw the love that was demonstrated by men of peace,” he says. “These leaders were willing to sacrifice their lives.”
For Glenn, the leaders of the civil rights movement became guiding role models who affirmed a message that education was essential to self-improvement and at the heart of combatting racism and hatred. “I love the educational process,” he says, explaining that his passion for education grew out of emulating the example set by King. Glenn’s passion was encouraged by pastors and friends throughout his formative years.
Glenn has spent the last 41 years working in healthcare, and has taught respiratory care for more than 30 years. Medicine only scratches the surface of his interests, however. In 1986, he began attending the Rushing Springs School of Theology, where he earned a master’s and doctorate of divinity. Yet to be satisfied, in the mid-1990s Glenn began attending law school at night while he worked as a respiratory therapist and chaplain during the day. He received his JD in 1999, graduating as the president of his class.
“As my wife often states, I wear several different hats,” says Glenn.
Amid all of his interests and pursuits, Glenn says that his unifying goal is, “to serve God’s children.”
Glenn continues to share the message of peaceful protest and love that he learned as a teenager. In 2006, he traveled to Israel, going from the Gaza Strip to Northern Samaria and speaking on human and civil rights. Glenn says he emphasized that “God will take care of them as he took care of us.”
Glenn’s heartfelt belief in the importance of this message continues to inform his commitment to helping young people in Birmingham. Today, he wears the badge of the 50-year anniversary of the civil rights movement in Birmingham. Yet he has drawn a heavy black line across the front of the 50-year logo. It is a statement of the promises left unfulfilled, he explains, particularly as black-on-black violence continues to affect Birmingham and the rest of the country. “It is just outrageous,” Glenn says of the violence.
Glenn has had to confront these conflicts all too personally. In January 2001, his youngest son, Mel Glenn Jr. was robbed and murdered. Glenn did not lose hope, however, believing that the civil rights movement’s message of love and nonviolence continues to transcend social and cultural barriers.
“I’ve known some heartache and pain,” he says, “but the Bible tells us love will cover a multitude of sins.”