I'm one of those people who get sort of annoyed by national holidays like today, Martin Luther King Day. I think it's a government-sanctioned ploy to excuse every manner of heinous, calculated, and conspiratorial injustices committed against blacks and other minorities. That being said, I realize that it's necessary to set aside time to remember such late greats as Martin Luther "The" King who might otherwise be completely forgotten, except by a chosen few who knew him well.
A great deal of history gets lost in translation. Though MLK grew to become a respected preacher and orator, he was a young idealist; a husband and father of four, rumored to have had several extramarital affairs; and, of course, a noted scholar, theologian, AND revolutionary (don't get it twisted all u Malcolm-X-ophiles). When people die, we tend to gloss over all the interesting parts that made them human -- especially for someone like MLK. We forget that he saw segregation and colonialism as part of the same legacy of oppression, heralding AFRican independence as the dawn of a new era. And yet today, when unrest breaks out in Kenya or Eritrea, most of us sit around scratching our azzes like...well, I'm Naija/Brazilian/Belizean/South African and we've got our own dayum problems.
But I think what really gets lost in translation is MLK's faith. And not in that self-centered, my salvation is my own business type of faith, but that special brand of liberation theology that extended to everyone across the nation and around the world. I don't even think anyone practices it now, really, it's almost like something from another era. Probably one of the main reasons why I don't go to church much anymore, finding myself sitting there waiting for a call to action, to change, that likely stopped being given at least two decades ago. (Maybe I was born in the wrong generation?)
And yet every year, on cue, black choirs across the nation gather to sing freedom songs in remembrance of Dr. King, project these black and white photos of Martin and Jesse -- young, strapping, optimistic dudes -- shaking hands and smiling. It's almost like MLK is stuck in time. Maybe he wouldn't even have been able to stomach what we're dealin with now. Crack in the 80s. Dying of high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS now. Eating ourselves to death.
What would he say today??
Maybe, "Don't remember me with tears; remember me with laughter." It reminds me of a picture I saw once, called Jesus Laughing. The challenge was to imagine JC as a regular guy, and not a savior on a cross, if one might grow closer in understanding. And I think the same can be said of MLK.
I was sitting here digging around for a picture that wasn't of him preaching at a pulpit, raising his hand in authority, or thinking really hard. Not easy to come by. But I think that as long as we look back at MLK as a relic of the past, and our foregone idealism, we lose the best part of him. The living, breathing man, wise and youthful, at the same time proud and humble. He was just a man. And as a man, he was just as fallible as any one of us and ill-equipped to make change. And yet he did! He followed through on his vision with a courage to which we should all aspire. He didn't get here with us (wherever here is), but there is still a ways to go, and I think we owe it to him to pick up where he left off.
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