Today we celebrate the life of a great man—a visionary, a revolutionary, a philosopher, a change agent, a leader in every sense of the word. Today, we celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I wish I had a copy of Eyes on the Prize. My daughter is eight years old, and I wonder as I write this if she is old enough to see with her own eyes her history as an American of African decent. I don't remember how old I was when I watched Roots, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Glory, or other films that demonstrate the horror and soul-shaking atrocity that befell Black people from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps I was a few years older than she is now when I saw those first images of young Black teenagers marching for peace, fire hoses turned upon them, angry dogs set loose among them. Regardless, I don't think age alone can prepare any of us to see hatred and violence so flippantly enacted against people who have done nothing to provoke a depth of malice that is difficult to understand or comprehend.
I wonder how parents are using this day... this day off of school or work for most of us... to teach their children about King and his legacy. Are they reading the I Have a Dream speech? Are they checking out books from the library and reading them together around the kitchen table? Maybe they are talking about the back story... watching Ghandi... and explaining how his philosophy of non-violent social protest motivated and inspired King and his contemporaries to stand up and do something for change. Maybe they are attending a program in his honor. Maybe they are sleeping in, trying to de-stress, running errands, doing all of the things we find difficult to do from day to day because of the demands our culture places on our time.
I'm looking at the cover of this month's Shambhala Sun magazine. It features a picture of Martin with the caption All We Need is Love. I just finished reading Charles Johnson's article, The King we Need. I'm in the middle of bell hooks' article Surrendered to Love: King's Legacy. Both hooks and Johnson take this opportunity to stress the significance of love. It reminds me of something Jamie Foxx said on Inside the Actor's Studio yesterday during the Pivot questionnaire. When asked "If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates," he says "I would want God to break down how he came up with love." Johnson and hooks are reminding us that love really is all powerful... that love really can make a difference. Are we listening? Are we really in tune with what Martin's legacy really is?
Johnson suggests that we have forgotten, that we have oversimplified the meaning of his thirty-nine year presence on earth:
Too many of us, especially those born after his assassination thirty seven years ago, see him only in the oversimplified terms of race—as an eloquent, segregation-era "voice of his people," frequently and falsely compared in political conversations with his very different (and philosophically antithetical) contemporary, Malcom X.
This is an article everyone should read... it skips over the popular messages and goes right to the bones... the Letter from a Birmingham Jail... the Drum Major Instinct... the progression of Martin's life and philosophies and how he found ways to make real the deepest convictions of his heart. If we only find ways to let love rule, ignoring at first politics, economics, and focusing instead on the person in front of us... If we only find ways to see each other not as who we are but who we are becomming, we would carry on King's vision and live his legacy, and show our children how it's done. We would fall into that natural progression that he did... starting from a solid spiritual base, moving out to help others, being unsatisfied until somehow we change the world.
I believe it is critical that we continue to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe it is critical that we study him, honor him, appreciate him, resepect him. However I think it is inappropriate for us to wonder what our lives would be like if he remained among us. Jamie Foxx talked about the death of his grandmother... He called her the tool maker, explaining that she "gave him the tools" he needed to handle every situation, every challenge in his life. It would be appropriate for us to see Martin in this light... He was the ultimate tool maker. He gave us the tools. It's up to us to continue to use them.