It’s the day after the national holiday celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., a day set aside as a day of service in honor of his legacy and life.
King was born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Celebrated on the third Monday in January, calls for the holiday began just days after his death by Representative John Conyers. It became a federal holiday in 1983 after years of petitioning, marching and even singing, and was first celebrated in 1986 by 17 states.
Still, less than half American employers give their workers the day off, according to a 2019 survey conducted by Bloomberg Law and reported by CNBC.
The Baptist pastor and civil rights icon was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.
He was 39 years old, killed by a single bullet while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. King was there in support of sanitation workers who were on strike.
Just two months prior to his arrival, two sanitation workers had been crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck while collecting trash on their route.
The city’s inadequate response to the men’s death, which was a part of a larger pattern of abuses, prompted King’s visit. He spoke to a group of the men the night before his untimely death.
One of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, James Baldwin said of King’s death, and that of Malcolm X, in his book No Name in the Street:
“I don’t think any black person can speak of Malcolm or Martin without wishing they were here. It is not possible for me to speak of them without a sense of loss and grief and rage; and with this sense, furthermore, of having been forced to undergo an unforgivable indignity, both personal and vast. Our children need them, which is, indeed, the reason why they are not here.”
Baldwin continued, writing about the hope that the men offered and the despair that followed in their absence. His words continue to ring true.
Lewis Brogdon, whom I interviewed during the Festival of Faiths last year, wrote in Hope on the Brink: Understanding the Emergence of Nihilism in Black America: “Nihilism is a product of centuries of racism and emerges as a result of its sustained presence and lingering effects.”
Consequently, if we are not working to deconstruct the sociopolitical construct of race and to end racism, then we are sustaining its presence.
Because what are we really celebrating year after year? Where is this beloved community, the fulfillment of his dream, which is not to be confused with MLK weekend events and sales, markdowns on clothing and home goods?
Because you won’t have the same dream after you purchase a new mattress. I don’t care what the salesperson tells you.
Back in December, King’s family asked that the holiday not be celebrated, and I couldn’t agree more with their reasoning.
With voter rights legislation stalled in Congress, what is there to celebrate? King led marches and demonstrations for these very rights. Now we are watching legislators walk it all back.
In 1967, King wrote Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? not to communities for photo opportunities. No, we get back to reality and to the work that is always calling us to make ourselves ready for the “kin-dom” that is coming, where “all God’s children got shoes.”
This question remains for us to answer every time we put one foot in front of the other.
He wrote: “The future of the deep structural changes we seek will not be found in the decaying political machines. It lies in new alliances of Negroes, Puerto Ricans, labor, liberals, certain church and middle-class elements.”
It will take people who daily determine that the path that leads to a beloved community is the way.
These beloved community builders would agree that we don’t have time to celebrate while tried and true political machinations attempt to take the country in the opposite direction.