The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. endures as the most recognizable and ubiquitous ideal of peace, love, and symbol for the relentless pursuit of equality. Since his violent, vile, and evil assassination, the course of the world was irrevocably changed.
At first gaze, it seemed like King’s demise put a global spotlight on the most nefarious, and clandestine murderous activities of government and purity of the hatred many had for the Civil Rights icon. In the subsequent years, Black Americans saw strides forward like never before and it felt like a rocket-like trajectory upward.
The “middle class” exploded, opportunities presented themselves and programs like affirmative action benefitted people of all walks regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, and even age. Dr. King, and others like him, were sacrificial lambs that willingly gave their lives – in blood – for the collective. For the future. For us. He knew how the story would end for himself, but that did not deter him, since he likely knew the result would be a better world for all.
In the year 2022, 54 years since his death, we recollect MLK’s legacy once again with thought pieces, TV/internet telecasts and social media posts. There are even streaming media services creating Dr. King playlists to honor his work and legacy.
It is difficult to fathom what the great leader would think of the plight of Black people, Brown people, and the downtrodden in the present day. The first thought is that he would be disappointed in us as a nation in general, and specifically as Black people. After all, he wrote a book in 1967 that asked the ultimate question: “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”
We are in the midst of one of the most confusing, unregulated, and tumultuous periods in recorded history. The plight is amplified by modern media, social platforms, and old-fashioned word of mouth. It is overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. Overwhelming because, unlike King in the late 1960s, hope seems to be fleeting. Underwhelming because people seem to lack the same passion for change, embracing instant gratification instead. Personally, I thought Black people would have overcome by now.
King is hopeful in “Where Do We Go From Here.”
Yet, here are some stats that would upset Dr. King.
- The overall poverty rate as of 2020 was up 11.4 percent, one 1.0 percentage point from 10.5 percent in 2019. Before 2020, it was on the decline. For perspective, that single percent means 3.3 million more people were classified as impoverish than the previous year.
- There are more nuance stats according to the CDC. For example, the poverty rate for a female-led household increased from 22.2 percent to 23.4 percent.
- The American median household income was $67,521 in 2020, a decrease, but the median income for African Americans remained the same, according to the report.
- Income for full-time, year-round workers went up 6.9 percent from 2019 numbers, $61,417 for me and $50,982 for women respectively.
In King’s day, our parents, grands and great grands day, they insisted on better jobs, higher wages, equality in education, fairness in housing and the sweeping, and an unencumbered right to vote made official through the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And King effectively saw a massive gain with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Anyway, stats and numbers don’t tell the whole story. How we feel matters as well. Here’s what some of my friends and associates said in a Facebook post when I queried them.
“I think he’d be angry and ashamed of the bastardization of his life’s work. The reduction of his words to respectability used only to pacify the urgent protests of our time.” – Ronnette Cox
“Please include that we dance a lot on social media platforms, Chuck Creekmur.”
“He’d muse on the passing of his brother Sidney Poitier and ruminate how thin-skinned and shallow the artist today are. He’d probably say, ‘Although I don’t listen to rap music as a practice, I’m reminded of Judge Elam’s son Keith and Gang Starr Who’s Gonna Take The Weight?'”
“We’d be somewhere else today were he still with us. His activism evolved to take a stand against the Vietnam war, poverty, and colonialism. His leadership would have inspired so many others who look to his evolution as a model for social justice and humanitarian work.”
“I think he would be embarrassed and offended by most of the music. His teachers were. C Delores Tucker tried to tell us.“
“He would regret that his true legacy, that of the Poor People’s Campaign, which was to create an economic Bill of Rights and join together various communities (Black, Native, Hispanic, and most interestingly, poor whites), not only didn’t happen, but that it was the thing that got him killed.”
“He’d be disappointed that we have allowed our music to be weaponized against us without any checks or balances.”
I cannot help, but think that we have allowed the torch once carried by King to die out, and yet, there are numerous flickers of hope around us. Remember King said: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
As far as Hip-Hop is concerned, we see King’s dream alive and well. T.I., for example, has established US OR ELSE, “a social justice-focused non-profit charity organization that advocates for the liberation of Black people and all other oppressed people.” Jay-Z founded REFORM, which fights for “the justice and dignity of people who are needlessly trapped in the criminal justice system.” There’s the Justice League NYC, backed by Carmen Perez and the legendary Harry Belafonte. There are many others too working, like Immortal Technique, Jasiri X, and more.
Numerous artists in both the mainstream and the underground have grown before our eyes in real-time. Think about Lil Baby when we first saw him, quite possibly on drugs, to where we saw him last, on stage with Kirk Franklin. He has evolved into a leader. OGs Killer Mike, Master P, and Vinnie Brown from Naughty By Nature have movements in banking to level the playing field in lending and access to capital.
In education, where we must reaffirm and reclaim our power, Dame Dash and Principal Akbar Cook have come together to inspire and empower our young people all over the nation. Brother Akbar has a bank, a salon, a laundry mat, a recording studio, an urban farm, and more in his New Jersey high school.
We strive but are we perfect? No. Was Dr. King perfect? No. We now know that a suit, tie, education, and good manners do not ensure that we’ll be respected. Or safe. So, respectability politics be damned. Whether we realize it or not, even his critics and haters benefitted from his undying legacy of transformation.
Also, it would be irresponsible not to mention the enemy. We face an enemy that has morphed as much as we have since the 1960s – if not more. And, their mission remains as diametrically opposed to us as it was when that bullet robbed us of Dr. King. Moreover, it is imperative that we prepare for the enemy in a way that ensures victory. For that to happen, we’ll have to study the total works of Dr. King and others, not just one-liners like “I have a dream.” We will need to employ new thinking and resources that align with the ultimate goal: Freedom.
The culture NOW still needs to speak up for what we deserve and what we are owed like the griots of old. We cannot wait. We must BE the change that we desire and embody our destiny. King would not co-sign the violence, drug dealing, gratuitous sex like he would not approve of the wealth gap. But he would also know the bigger picture by now. And so should we.
In short, King would say to our generation, “Do not give up, but continue to fight.” He would not be silent and he would not be passive and neither should we. His family has told us “no celebration without legislation.“
So, what am I doing?
I have taken the helm of Raising Kings, a Delaware-based program that I have been a part of for 10 years. Under Chandra Pitts, RK has consistently been active in the state and the surrounding areas as have other programs like Girls Can Do Anything! and Around the World in a Summer.
Raising Kings is a collaborative commitment to change the image and expectations of African American males by elevating the level of positive male engagement in the lives of boys. It seeks to build capacity among Men and Boys of Color by leveraging the community’s existing assets, resources and connections.
Raising Kings creates a platform to redefine success and teach healthy manhood through exposure and education. With a strength-based approach, this initiative interrupts the generational crisis of failure to create a counter-culture of fortitude, greatness, cultural awareness and self respect.
Going forward, we are re-committed to raising the next generation of leaders with ancestral guides like Martin, Malcolm, Rosa, Harriet, Medgar, Coretta and so many more employing progressive tactics. And we’ll do it without shame or fear.
Embrace The Chaos.