"A man who hasn't found something he is willing to die for is not fit to live."
These are the words of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Words that he lived by.
Words that he died by.
You have to wonder.
How would the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King want his day celebrated? Would he be happy to see his day become just another photo op for politicians and preachers who have not used their considerable power to fight for justice because they have not found something they are even willing to be criticized for?
Would he be satisfied knowing that the King Day of Service, sponsored by the federal government, tries to eliminate any mention of King's work for justice? Would he like how they twisted his Drum Major speech to ignore justice and hype service? In fact, in the official website for the holiday they have literally changed his call for "drum majors for justice" to a call for "drum majors for service."
King confronted uncomfortable issues, instead of avoiding them. His commitment to racial justice was never buried under a call for racial harmony. He did not believe you could have one without the other. He used non-violence as a weapon, not an act of submission to evil.
A real King Day would probably be run by people who actually stand and work for justice. It would help if they really knew something about him other than one speech, if they could honestly claim to have read a single book by or about the man. A real King Day would be used to face controversial issues with courage, wisdom and love. A real King Day would be structured and designed to educate or mobilize the masses to address the dangerous rising tide of fear, greed, injustice and hatred that King would have confronted.
King would not likely spend his day with clean-up or painting projects; not because they lack importance but because of the cries for live-saving justice that drown out the call for 'safe', non-offensive, non-threatening activities.
King would probably not appreciate the way his legacy has been exploited by anyone claiming even the most distant relationship with the man. To be truly related to King is to emulate his courage, his motives and his actions, not just his style of speech.
Wanna meet the real Dr. King?
Here's how Dr. King described the Savior that he wanted to emulate in the Drum Major speech given two months, to the day, before his death.
"They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. They said he was an agitator. He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions. And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them."
No so mild, eh? Read the entire speech or his Letter from a Birmingham jail and see if you find more of a call to pick up trash or more of a call to fight for justice.
Yes, king would certainly address many of the internal issues that plague the Black community to day. Yes he would deal with the absent fathers, irresponsible mothers, useless Black elected officials and self-destructive entertainment media. But he would never ignore the external causes and factors of these behaviors nor would he avoid handling the uncomfortable problems that are tearing this nation and world apart at the seams.
Some of the in-your-face issues that a real King Day would address include:
- Rampant corporate greed
- Irresponsible hate-mongering media
- An unjust, deadly war that the world knows was started under false pretenses. Over 500,000 dead
- The dramatic rise in police abuse and outright murders since the election of a Black president
- The unjust functioning of the criminal justice system
- The mass and disproportionate incarceration of Black people i.e. the new slavery
- The near-genocidal polices in education, including testing-oriented curricula and disparities in human and material resources
- The life-and-health robbing crimes of the health care system
- The abuses of the food industry
- The ongoing debacle of Hurricane Katrina
- The current genocidal actions against the Palestinian people
- The absolute erosion of civil liberties, such as speech, religion and privacy put forth by the US government in the name of fear
- Horrible employment conditions, including the exporting of jobs to foreign countries
- The open assault on the environment, especially toxic dumping in Black and poor communities
If King gave a speech today it would definitely offend somebody. That would never be his objective, but it would not stop him from "speaking truth to power."
Now, more than ever there is a need to celebrate and lift up the courage of those who are "fit to live." Now, more than ever there is a need to warn the people about the horrible, dangerous direction this nation has taken during the past 30 years and accelerated toward in the past ten.
Next year let's have a real commemoration of the life of Dr. King and the movement he symbolized. Let's go beyond the 'Dream' speech. Let's confront the issues that he would confront were he alive today. Let's each face our own fears and use the time inform the masses about what real justice looks like and why we are Divinely obligated to deal with those things that stand in its way. King died fighting for peace through justice.
Next year, let's have a People's King Day and show our children and the world how what he really stood for.
Now would be a great time either get real about the Day or have the honesty to leave it alone.
...And that's the Hard Truth.
Kojo Livingston is an ordained Baptist Minister with over 34 years experience as a community activist/organizer/developer. He is a 22 year veteran journalist who has written for, designed and edited local and national newspapers and magazines. His current and past affiliations include Christian Unity Baptist Church (New Orleans), the U.N.I.A., the Republic of New Afrika, Amnesty International, SCLC, the New Orleans Committee Against Apartheid and others. Min. J. Kojo Livingston may be reached via email at LiberationZone@aol.com.
Photos from New Orleans Agenda.
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