Remembering Dr. King...

January 17, 2022

I'm aware that some of you may not be working today. Today... Today is a national day of observance for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most notable figures in U.S. and world history. Dr. King's name, likeness, voice, and words have been spoken, reproduced, printed, and quoted for decades and he is most often remembered for his tireless work and commitment to the American Civil Rights Movement and Black Freedom Struggle of the 1950s and 1960s.

We have all likely been taught the history of Dr. King's work from the perspective of his quest for justice and equality. However, as we take this day to reflect on his life's work, I challenge us all (myself especially) to commit to service with a purpose. Dr. King spoke to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia in 1967 and posed this question: "What is in your life's blueprint?" Initially, I considered that Dr. King's purpose for posing this question to those students was simply to encourage them to start making decisions about their direction in life. However, as I listened to Dr. King's mellifluous cadence during his speech and absorbed his words, I noticed that he wasn't just talking about making plans for the future—he was talking about discovering one's worth and finding your true calling in life. He said:  

"Number one in your life's blueprint should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth, and your own somebodiness. Don't allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth. And always feel that your life has ultimate significance."

Wow. Those words spoke to me on so many levels. Maybe I'm alone in this, but I haven't always felt that I mattered. I haven't always known my worth. I wasn't always convinced of my own somebodiness. And I wasn't always sure that my life had significance. And maybe I'm alone in this—but there are days that I still don't. But listening to Dr. King's brilliant oration reminded me of a valuable lesson I learned along the way as I have traveled life's path full of stumbling stones and worn steps—I matter in this life. I can love who I am and be proud of it because I am somebody. 

Dr. King also reminded those students of another valuable lesson as he urged them to sketch the blueprint of their lives. He asked them to commit to the eternal principles of "beauty, love, and justice," reminded them of their responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody and admonished them to stay involved in the fight for freedom and justice. In these words, I heard the call to action—the call to work toward equality for all—and the call to do my part to make life better for my community and the generations that follow me. It is within these words that I find my part of my purpose as well. Doing what I can to educate others and facilitate discussions about the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion amongst everyone within our organization is part of my purpose. 

While Dr. King's messages of love, nonviolence, and equality for all accounts for much of what we associate with the holiday (and are the ONLY messages I was taught about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, where his church, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, still stands), there is much more that I take from today. During this holiday, I also take time to reflect on the parts of Dr. King's legacy that are discussed far less. 

I think about the words that he spoke that weren't about his idyllic dream for a tomorrow that held the possibility of black and white children holding hands and playing together. 

I consider the speeches he gave that weren't about driving out darkness with light and the attitude of permanent forgiveness. 

I'm compelled to recall his rebuke of white moderates and those who sought to quiet the deafening shouts for justice. 

I choose to remember his insistence that voting rights were an irrefutable right that every American should be able to exercise. 

I often wonder how he sustained himself in mind, body, and spirit while he faced insurmountable odds and unimaginable racism and hate during a time when there was no reckoning or public acknowledgment of the wrongdoing of public officials or justice for police brutality. 

I become incensed when I consider the way that Dr. King's speeches have been picked apart and quotes have been piecemealed to paint the picture of a palatable, docile Baptist preacher who only sought to gain the right to sit at the front of a bus. 

I challenge myself to remember that Dr. King was marching for pay equity and economic justice for all people. He was marching for reparations for the descendants of enslaved people who had been then and are STILL denied access to the generational wealth that they helped our nation build and sustain. He was marching for an end to the absurdity of the Vietnam War and America's thirst for power and imperialism. He was marching as an act of defiance to challenge the systems of racial injustice and oppression that stifled the growth of people of color within the United States. At the time of Dr. King's death, three out of four white Americans disapproved of him and 31% of people in the U.S. thought that he "brought it on himself." What a stark contrast to the way we've been told to remember the man who fought so hard to see real justice and change happen in our country—not just for the benefit of black people—that would serve to balance the scales between the social and economic classes. 

I choose to remember what Dr. King truly stood for and want my life to serve a purpose. I'm constantly challenging myself to review the blueprint for my life and be reminded that I'm somebody. And on MLK Day, I remember that my commitment to equity and justice is necessary as I continue to support Slipstream's mission and my own growth and acknowledgment of my selfhood. 

Want to learn more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work and legacy?

Read: Why We Can't Wait | Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read: MLK is revered today but the real King would make white people uncomfortable | Michael Harriot | The Guardian

Watch: Why American History Whitewashes Historical Figures | Second Thought

Watch: "What is Your Life's Blueprint" – Full Speech | Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Barratt Junior High School, Philadelphia, October 26, 1967

Watch: What the History Books Got Wrong About MLK and His Radicalism | NowThis News

Image: "Martin Luther King, Jr." by RV1864 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0