A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the Broadway play “The Mountaintop” in New York and loved it. It wasn’t what I expected at all because it depicted a side of Dr. Martin Luther King rarely seen or discussed. It was real, raw and a reminder that before he was assassinated and relegated – deservedly so – to hero and icon status, he was just a guy. He was a Baptist preacher with flaws and fears. Even though this play is a fictional account, we can only imagine what he must have gone through.
To me, Dr. King is a true hero because he took up a cause that he believed in and knowingly sacrificed his life so that others could have a better one. He didn’t do it for fame and fortune; he did it just because it was right. The fact that he wasn’t a “perfect” person makes it even more impressive.
People who knew him well, like civil rights soldier and Ambassador Andrew Young, have been telling us for years that Dr. King had a great sense of humor and that he even played the dozens. He was a husband and a father of four young children with all the pressures that go along with that. But when appointed to lead the civil rights movement, he accepted and pressed forward when he had every excuse not to.
He understood that his role, counter to that of the late SCLC co-founder Fred Shuttlesworth, was to peacefully make known the plight of black people without making white people feel too uncomfortable. And even with that, he was beaten, jailed, threatened with death – and finally killed by an assassin’s bullet.
As we celebrate the dedication of the MLK memorial in D.C. I think it’s important to honor Dr. King’s complete memory. As the years go on, more information will be released about him, some of it true, some false. None of that should taint what he accomplished and what he means, not just to African Americans, but the world. Most importantly, we should remember why he was driven to make such sacrifices.
He did this before the era of mega-churches, the Internet, 24-hour cable news. He gave all and asked for nothing.
What about us? What are you, your friends, your pastor and your co-workers willing to give your all for? There may not be such a thing. The world is not full of people like Dr. King; that’s what made him great. He had something deep within that in spite of his fear, in spite of the pain brought to him and his family, gave him the courage to press forward.
Sixteen years ago this month, a million black men were summoned to Washington D.C. for the Million Man March. No one knew what to expect; I know I didn’t. We were a much smaller show then, but Sybil, three others on our staff and I arrived early to set up for a 6 a.m. broadcast. It was pitch black outside and chilly. We knew people were there, but we couldn’t tell how many.
When daybreak came, and the sun began to rise, I will never forget what I saw. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of mostly black men, but some boys, some complete families … on the ground and yes, even in the trees. But as beautiful and memorable as that day was, we have to remember the difference between a march and a movement.
The Million Man March was a historic display of unity, but some will question whether it really accomplished anything. Of course, it did. For that day, the world got a glimpse of what they needed to see more of: Black men from all walks of life. There were executives, blue-collar workers, unemployed, entertainers, students – the whole gamut, standing tall. I’m sure everyone who attended has a unique story about what he did, whom he met, what friendships were forged, etc.
Turn the clock ahead, and we’re back in Washington for the rescheduled dedication to the King Memorial and Rev. Al Sharpton’s March for Jobs and Justice.
People love to take a current situation, usually when it relates to black people, and say, what would Dr. King have wanted? So, I’ll play along. What WOULD Dr King have wanted? How WOULD he feel about another march reminiscent of the March on Washington he led in the ‘60s?
Well, the truth is things are not all that different than they were 40 some years ago, in spite of us having a black president. African-Americans still lag behind in some crucial areas when to comes to education, wealth and employment, but we still lead the way in diseases like hypertension, diabetes and HIV-AIDS.
I think he would be frustrated at the situation we find ourselves in as we near 2012 and supportive of the actions Rev. Al and many are taking. But I also think he would be disappointed at how so many of us are content at letting so few of us do the work that needs to be done.
I think he’d be proud of President Obama, but that wouldn’t stop Dr. King from beating the drum for equality. The March for Jobs and Justice is a great way to call attention to our plight, but we need to do more. If the march doesn’t lead to us toward making a conscious decision to make something change, then it’s nothing more than another event.
Everyone at the march should make a commitment to vote, not just in the national election but every election. It all starts with being registered. If you aren’t, or know someone who isn’t, here’s an easy way to do it. Call 1-866-MY-VOTE-1.
In some ways, we’ve gone full spectrum. After the movement peaked, some have spent their lives trying to recreate the momentum our leaders had and feel they’re failing when they don’t. That’s fine. We can never go back and relive something from the past. When we try, it usually fails miserably. But there are other mountains to be climbed, other goals to be accomplished, and no matter how big or how small, the journey begins with one step forward.
Are you willing to take it?