It has occurred to me that we have fallen into a routine in regards to Martin Luther King Jr., Day. For far too many of us it is merely another day that we use to: (a) escape from school/work, (b) attend a MLK breakfast/parade, or (c) go about our normal business as if it were a normal day. In recent years, we have seen campaigns about keeping Jesus in Christmas; it may be time for us to start a similar campaign about keeping the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s activist legacy and commitment to racial equality as the reason for MLK day.
As you well know, the school system can not be relied upon to teach our children about neither their rich cultural legacy nor history. Unfortunately for African-Americans, too many of our people, particularly our young people know far too little about King’s legacy. I must relate that it saddens me when I encounter young people, regardless of their race, and all that they know about Dr. King can be summed up in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech during the March on Washington. There is quite possibly no more efficient means of cheapening King’s legacy of being a ‘drum major’ for social justice than to allow the remembering of general facts about his legacy pass as an honoring of his unprecedented work on the American frontier of racial matters.
As previously mentioned, we can rely upon neither the schools nor an external entity to shape this day for our community. It is time that Black communities reclaim Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and repurposes it for something much grander and useful than its current use of strolling down a rather brief memory lane with footage of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. There is quite possibly no greater means of honoring Dr. King than to use the date that he is remembered on to teach all Americans about his philosophical positions on diverse issues such as: poverty, social justice, racial equality, Black Power, Affirmative Action, and racial justice. At the end of each MLK day, our people should know who the following figures and organizations are: W.E.B. Du Bois, Asa Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, SNCC, CORE, SCLC, MFDP, WPC, Stokely Carmichael, Emmett Till, Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, Fannie Lou Hamer, Huey P. Newton, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Joanne Robinson.
It may prove beneficial to the entire nation if we abandoned the typical MLK Day parades and breakfast events and committed ourselves to what can be best termed ‘teach-ins’ where our entire community would come together to learn and study about Dr. King and the innumerable other Civil Rights and Black Power stalwarts that have given their life for the upliftment of our community.
It is only through studying Dr. King’s words that we will be able to finally remove him from the safe spot that many people, particularly those who today are resisting Black progress with every fiber of their being, have placed him in. Only after we diligently study King’s words and put them into action will we understand that King spoke about Affirmative Action, poverty in America, racial justice, lynching, and the nation’s duty to African-Americans. Most people do not realize that it is Dr. King, the man whose words they use to rationalize helping African-Americans out of what has been an economic poverty that has its roots in slavery that stated in one of his texts that, “it would seem to me that a nation that has done so much against the Negro would not, at least for a period of time, be so against doing something for him.” Unfortunately, such genius calls for racial justice have fallen silent because we have chosen a parade and pancakes over King’s much more substantial soul food and activism.