The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial dedication ceremony, scheduled for this past weekend, was intended to be a watershed moment in our nation’s history. It was set to be a grand and glorious celebration commemorating the life and accomplishments of a man who sought to push this country to fulfill its majestic democratic ideals.
I, like many others, was looking forward to participating in the festivities to mark this great occasion. People from all over the country and from all walks of life had plans of convening in Washington, D.C., this past weekend for this long-awaited celebration. Sadly, the celebration will have to wait for another day thanks to the havoc caused by Hurricane Irene.
Irene’s intrusiveness and destruction was visible from North Carolina to Vermont, and many broken lives were left in the wake of the hurricane’s devastation. Irene shut down Washington, D.C., which in turn led to the cancellation of the King ceremony, as well as other events surrounding the dedication.
The postponement of my plans for the weekend afforded me the opportunity to reflect on King’s life, ministry and legacy. When I was a student at Morehouse College, it was impossible to fully experience the transformative impact of the Morehouse “mystique” without feeling the spirit of King permeating the campus. In fact, the statue that stands in front of the chapel bearing his name was a constant reminder of who we were called to be as “Morehouse Men.”
We believed that, like King, we could participate in the continued transformation of our country in a way that promotes freedom, justice and equality for all. I wanted to walk in the footsteps of King because I too believed that injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere. I believe in that Kingian principle more strongly today than I did during my time at Morehouse.
However, as Irene’s interruption gave me the opportunity to pause and think about King’s impact on the world, I wondered if we have memorialized and worshiped King’s work more than we have sought to embody the movement that he helped birth. I wonder if our desire to celebrate the legacy of King has outweighed our desire to continue the work and pursuit of justice for which he lived and died.
I have come to discover that for many of us, it is easier to memorialize and deify a martyred hero than embrace and embody the dreams, hopes and aspirations for which he stood. This is my fear: that we have worked so diligently for a King holiday, King avenues, streets and highways, King awards and a King memorial that, in some ways, we negate King’s work.
Dreams that do not come to fruition in the realm of reality can quickly become illusions that taunt our greatest possibilities. King did not just dream about justice, he worked for justice. He did not just dream about equality, he worked for equality. If we are the benefactors of King’s dream, we must be as vigilant in our doing as we are in our dreaming. This means we must continue to fight against the social, political and economic injustices that continue to plague our country.
We must not only continue the fight that King fought, we must recognize that today’s fight may call for a more nuanced approach to strategic planning and mobilization. In this great historical moment, it may be that one of the best ways to memorialize King is by not only erecting a monument, but by also being intentional about confronting injustice and engaging the work upon which King’s legacy has been built.