Seeing this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with his youngest daughter, Dr. Bernice A. King. We were discussing different topics that her parents were passionate about and interested in pursuing before they passed. We discussed the holiday dedicated to her father’s birthday and legacy, and whether people should take the day off or not. She said that people should consider it a “day of service” whether you’re scheduled to work or have the day off.
When I reflect on this image of her father; a man I never knew but grew up admiring, and always wondering how he carried such a heavy burden, and why his wife, Coretta, constantly encouraged him to do so, I can’t help but to wonder if you and I are doing enough to be the change we want to see in the world (taking from a Mahatma Gandhi quote). Dr. King wasn’t just concerned about self, or just his family and friends. He wasn’t just fighting for equality, equity, inclusion, and justice for Black people. Dr. King was fighting for all people. He was murdered before his Poor People’s Campaign could take flight and soar. It wasn’t a Poor Black People’s Campaign. Yes, Dr. King was thinking of struggling Black people (then called Negroes or Colored) but he was also ambitiously pursuing right-siding the lives of poor and struggling white, Indigenous, Latino/Hispanic, and Asian people. Dr. King was trying to tap into the hearts and minds of those who had the economic and political power to bring the evolutionary change this country and world still desperately needs.
See, Black people started gaining political power and it’s clear that politicians look at our voting habits and strength to determine how much they need to invest to counter that power. But Black people don’t have enough political power to gain social equity and justice, so that there’s no longer a need for rallies crying out that Black Lives Matter too. Dr. King’s dream is still unfulfilled in that area. And Black people, collectively, don’t have the economic power to self-determine where we live and what schools our children attend. We have a strong consumer position but when it comes to jobs and real estate, we keep missing the mark, and that’s because those in power keep moving the mark. This is also why we see a painfully large working class across this great nation filled with faces of many colors and shades.
It’s not just poor Black people. It’s tons of poor everyone, everywhere. And I think Dr. King was seeing this algorithm lining up and before he could get all of the poor people together on one accord, he was assassinated and silenced.
We don’t need a “new Dr. King” or even a substitute, to lead the way. History has shown us over the past 50 years that those options are not the solutions to our problems. We don’t need a human savior or superheroes to swoop in and rescue us. We need everyone, regardless of demographic categories, to see themselves— flaws and all, as Dr. King and others before him did, passionate about achieving our dreams. Dr. King didn’t do what he did alone. There were hundreds and thousands of people doing their part, making it possible for him to go before presidents, vice presidents, business leaders, religious leaders, and politicians.
We need to be focused on doing our part to create communities that aren’t fear-driven, plagued by nightmarish thoughts of “them” coming for “us”. That toxic and warped seed has sadly been watered for thousands of years and it’s long overdue to be cut down and turned into a bonfire. The right kind. Bring out the s’mores and hot cocoa!
What are YOU doing for others? Better yet, what are you doing that you AREN’T paid to do?
It doesn’t matter if you’re on or off the clock today, what are YOU committed to doing today for others?
What are you doing to help break negative stereotypes, to overcome toxic biases, to build bridges and not walls, to include others and amplify their voices? How will you be of service to someone else today? How can you help lighten someone else’s load? Can you go grocery shopping for an elderly, sick, injured, or overworked neighbor? Can you buy a person a meal and bless them with conversation?
What can you do to help improve the conditions in your (or another) community? What small efforts can you make that can be replicated and built upon, to have an even greater impact?
Have you noticed that the most diverse cities in our country are also the most segregated? Go figure. Look at the data. Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, New York City, etc. Look at the soaring cost of housing in these and other major cities (and neighboring lesser known cities).
We can complain until we take our last breath. Or we can rise each day focused on small compounded victories.
Rather than focus on the pain of seeing Dr. King’s dream still unfulfilled, we can instead make the choice to do our part to be difference makers.
We need more servant leaders and less self-serving ones. You don’t need to wait for your local and national politicians to do for you what you have been called to do for yourself.
What will YOU do today and moving forward to:
- Beautify a community
- Empower those who feel powerless
- Be a listening ear and voice for the voiceless
- Speak up and against those who cause harm to people, communities, our planet
- Help bring greater equity in schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, cities, counties, etc.
- Help to expose fear for what it is, speak truth to lies, and address misinformation and propaganda with facts and a magnifying glass
- Encourage someone to pursue their dreams and ignore the naysayers
What will you do today (and moving forward) to be a better person than you were the day before?
These are some of the things we can do to not only honor Dr. Martin Luther King, but to also honor the giants that catapulted him, the ancestors who empowered him to do and say the unimaginable, and risk it all for a dream.
These are the things we can do to honor the life and legacy of our loved ones, who have passed, who also had passionate dreams that are still waiting to be fulfilled. Think of your 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th-plus great grandparents and the dreams they had, some fulfilled and some still holding strong, waiting for you and I to grasp ahold and make them a reality.
Don’t treat today as a day-off or just another day. Let today serve as a reminder that you have been chosen and empowered to do many things in your lifetime, and when you take your last few breaths and memories flash before you, what will you remember most? Will you think of the unpaid bills or the yacht you never bought? Or will you think of the lives you touched and the ones that touched you?
What legacy are you building and preparing to leave behind? Be intentional about today, with your day, everyday!