April 4th marks the 40th year of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Dr. King was assassinated the morning of April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray. The incendiary act sparked flames of confusion soon followed by rage in African Americans across the country. Washington D.C., Chicago and Baltimore were only some of the areas where people took to the streets and rioted in retaliation. Ironically, the night before his death, Dr. King spoke about already having “been to the mountain top” and having “seen the promise land.” I wonder what promise land did Dr. King see.
Did Dr. King look down from that mountain top into a valley of hidden segregation and a return to slavery via psychological tactics? Could he have seen the infestation of drugs in poor communities and the fight for fair employment and wages continuing? He couldn’t have seen fathers missing in the home, crack babies in hospitals across the country, the increase of gang violence and murder among African Americans, especially young men. I can’t believe he viewed the new age chain gang, the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). Rodney King, Jena 6, Affirmative Action, 3 Strikes Law, the downfall of Historical Black Colleges. I don’t believe he saw the American evils awaiting us nor could he have imagined such atrocities after he and countless others fought so hard for the many luxuries abused today. How can anyone have imagined the regression of Black Power, the demise of African American communities in the United States, the astronomical number of black athletes in comparison to the meager amount of African Americans in politics? Could he have heard his sisters, daughters, mother, wife being called bitches and hoes and young children aspiring to be a rapper who’s done time, sold drugs, is paid by taking from another, and can’t read passed the third grade. How could anyone who marched next to Dr. King imagine a future still occupied by nooses hanging from trees, burning crosses on front lawns and police brutality as inhumane as Selma, Alabama in 1965?
While pondering Dr. King’s thoughts, I think I may as well ask heaven what it sees. A man who held a B.A. in sociology from Morehouse College, a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary and a Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) from Boston University, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a minister, a husband and a father, a leader who practiced the Gandhian technique of nonviolence and led a 385 day boycott against Montgomery, Alabama’s bus system; a writer who penned a letter to the Alabama clergy while in jail explaining why protesting is an intricate factor in achieving civil rights, a speaker who after leading a march to Washington D.C. and stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and shared a dream with over 250,000 people. I can not fathom the images Dr. King saw for his fellow African Americans, but I can embrace the belief of there being a promise land to look forward to.
This month Dr. King will be honored by journalist and media outlets that will rekindle past images, articles of the man, the activities and his accomplishments. Next there’ll rehash all the injustices we’ve seen year after year and dismiss each of them as fast as a Souljah Boy single. Lastly, we the people will look around our community, observe our families, and question ourselves and at some point feel a subtle empathy for the young who don’t know or fail to understand what Dr King represents to the lives of Blacks everywhere. And at the end of the day we’ll go on in our lives finding ways to make it to the next and unconsciously slip back into our regular routine of bills, bills, cars, and clothes as the Dr. King legacy fades into the calendar for another 365 days.
Before we do, take a moment to see the many accomplishments we have been blessed to take part in. After all we may have an African American president. Look at your own life and see the many successes you may have made for yourself, the sacrifices you didn’t think you could make and the trials and tribulations you thought would take you down. Observe the generation curses you have broken, the life you have created for yourself and your family and enjoy the victories you have attained. Let those experiences be the road to the promise land. I find it important to remember where we come from to better project where we want to go. The accomplishments we achieve in our daily lives transcends into our community whether we see it or not.
The victory of change is ours. The opportunities we create to better ourselves and the people in the neighborhoods we reside in is an embodiment of the promise land Dr. King may have envisioned. This is how we celebrate not only his legacy, but all of those who fought for equals rights for all people.
With each victory we change the world. I am victory and I can help change the world. Who are you?