This past Tuesday, January 15th, was the actual birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Had he lived, he would have turned 85 years old on that day. This country will celebrate his birth this coming Monday with a holiday. It is also the day that we will inaugurate President Barack Obama with his second term in office.
The King holiday was a hard fought fight to recognize a man who did so much to mend the fabric of America. Prior to the civil rights era, this country was raveling apart as it refused to grant the rights of citizenship to people who were citizens. As Dr. King’s image has evolved from civil rights warrior to a cultural hero, for many of us in the black community we have accepted his image as well as his “I Have a Dream” speech as the embodiment of who he was. That speech is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Dr. King. And although that speech will forever remain one of his most cherished speeches, there are others that we as black people need to keep at the forefront of our memories like his “Drum Major” speech or his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.
Dr. King paid the ultimate price so that all of us can be where we are today. The era of Jim Crow and “separate but equal” laws are faded memories for many of us. Yet, as we have all benefitted from Dr. King’s actions, what do we do as individuals to pay homage to a man who did so much for us?
For me, I have made the pledge that I will be an advocate against anything that trivializes Dr. King, our enslaved ancestry and his civil rights work. For example, I recently watched the movie Lottery Ticket. As I stared at the screen, embarrassed by the shucking and jiving that went on throughout the movie, the main character and his best buddy held a conversation where they cracked jokes about the infamous Underground Railroad. I have never in my entire life had a conversation or overheard a conversation that made light of the pain and indignities that we as a people suffered. It also says a lot that writers can take a very painful history and turn it into an unwarranted joke.
What pledge will you make to keep Dr. King’s contributions alive in a positive fashion? Will you learn more about him and then pass that knowledge on to our young people? Our children are being given a very misguided education about him. In one school they had a coloring book page showing Dr. King asleep. The children were to color him and then fill in the blank cartoon caption with a response to “I Have a Dream …”
Do you think Dr. King would be pleased if he were alive today with the state of Black America, Black Chicago or Black Austin? Right before Dr. King was killed he was beginning to focus on economics. If we solve our economic crisis, then a lot of our other problems can be solved. How do we go about making our business strips for the most populated area in the entire city, a real black shopping mecca? We have a number of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, yet where is that money going when I still see many areas looking as economically depressed as they did before the TIFs were put into place?
My role over the coming year will be to write and inform.
What will your role be?