Saturday, January 27, 2018

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1598: Let’s make King celebrations as Dr. King lived

  Sometimes Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations make me sad. No, I am not sad because there are celebrations. In fact, I am very glad that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is celebrated on the third Monday of each January. I remember firsthand the very difficult 15-year struggle from the date of his death to create a national holiday celebrating Dr. King. As we celebrate his birth in the 50th year of his death, sometimes the King celebrations make me sad.

  First, the celebrations make me sad because most do not deal with Dr. King’s dedicated life, sterling example, and continuous struggle. The most we deal with is the last sentence in the last paragraph of his memorable speech spoken during the gigantic march on Washington in 1963. If we dealt with the whole speech, we would make some progress, but we don’t.

  Secondly, the celebrations make me sad because there are few children present at most of these events. Many of our older generations are moving off the stage of the struggle. Some are moving off the stage of life. We need a new generation of determined strugglers. A celebration that explores Dr. King’s life would touch many young people in profound ways.

  Thirdly, these celebrations make me sad because few White people attend. Most of the few who do attend are office holders along with their aides and families. It’s good that these few Whites come, but Dr. King lived and died for all of us. Therefore, we should all celebrate his birth and life across race and other lines of differences if we want his dream to come true.

  Dr. King’s life was so inspirational that it must be fully understood to be effectively utilized. The young and not so young could benefit from the examples of his life. An effective celebration could help us to be better people and better citizens, and make our communities and world better places in which to live.

  To better understand, let me touch on several pertinent aspects of Dr. King’s life. Dr. King never sought a position or fame. He just served. As he served, Dr. King won a position and achieved fame. So many of us seek positions and fame but not to serve. Dr. King taught us to seek service and other things will come. Would not it be great if those of us who seek office and position and status would also seek to truly serve?

  Dr. King sacrificed for others. He did not have many material things in life. No big house. No big bank account. No big cars. When he won the Nobel Peace Prize, he gave the huge money prize to the SCLC, the organization he helped create and led. He just served and sacrificed. We need to hear about this at the King celebrations.

  Of course Dr. King was a great speaker. But he used his voice to change America and the world. He was a powerful example of how voices can be used to make our communities better. We all have voices. Don’t we need to learn to use our voices to make better communities?

  Dr. King was humble. He remained humble in spite of becoming one of the most famous persons in the world. In spite of an extremely busy schedule, he still had time for the least of these. He never got on a high horse. We need to hear about his humbleness at King celebrations.

  Dr. King served in spite of being attacked on so many fronts. He was attacked by the media. He was attacked by our government. He was attacked by citizens. He was even attacked by those he was helping the most. He was framed and put on trial. His home was bombed. He was stabbed by a Black woman in Harlem, New York. He was hounded by the FBI, who tried to ruin his reputation, destroy his marriage, and make him commit suicide. He was murdered by a White man in Memphis on April 4, 1968. But he kept on serving until his death. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a servant of servants. Don’t we need to hear about his servanthood at the King celebrations?

  Dr. King was a visionary. He could envision a better world and move resolutely to create that world. Because he used the term, I have a dream, he is often called “The Dreamer”. Dreamers create images in their minds, but they don’t create realities. Dr. King envisioned a better life for all and worked to make that vision a reality. He not only worked, but he gave his all every single day. He was a true visionary. Wouldn’t it help us to hear about this visionary during the celebrations?

  Dr. King truly believed in non-violence. It was not just a strategy or tactic of struggle. It was a way of life. Non-violence as a way of life has profound implications for our society. Shouldn't people hear about that non-violence at our celebrations? Don’t we urgently need non-violence in our communities, our country, and our world? 

  There is so much more I could say, but I do not have the space. However, I must deal with one more issue. Sometimes the media makes it appear that Dr. King did everything – that he won the civil rights and voting rights victories all by himself. However, in life, Dr. King lifted others who served. He understood that it was the people who won the victories, and he gave people great credit. In fact, Dr. King never went anywhere that people were not already in struggle. Would it not help us if this was shared at the King celebrations? Would we then have more continuous struggle? Would we cease waiting for the great leader to come and save us?  Let’s make the King celebrations as King would have us live.

Epilogue – Symbols are powerful. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has become a very powerful symbol. One of the powers of symbols is that people tend to perceive whatever they want to see in the symbol. I am so sad that the symbol for Dr. King is almost limited to the “I Have a Dream” moment without a real understanding of who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was and the life he lived.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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