Today there will be plenty of love (and in some cases, hate) cast at the celebration of the life and actions that Martin Luther King Jr did. It is a curious and, yet, familiar occurrence that someone who becomes the go-to representative for a movement, is placed in both the light of fondness and the darkness of controversy. For some reason, we just love to do that to people, questioning while praising, sneering while also conceding to mildly applaud the facts we can't easily tear down. (This is ESPECIALLY true now that we have all embraced the uses of social media and the Internet kingdoms we all set ourselves up with.)
For me, thinking of a day given to honor Dr. King is both joyous and sad. I am laden with melancholy while grateful and celebratory while deeply troubled. Ya see, what King wanted to happen, didn't fully materialize. And there's a part of me that doubts we all still have the urgency to continue the movement toward its full realization.
As I said at the beginning, there will be a lot of stuff said about MLK jr today. Quotes slung about to both inspire and to use as a clarion call to the injustices we still see happening in there days. Its your right to express the lines you find some meaning in from ALL that he said. His "I have a dream speech", the letters he wrote from jail, about the Vietnam war, and all the way through the 15 chapters of his great book, "The Strength to Love." (as a personal side note: If you are capable of reading a book, considering it in the moment, THEN applying your belief or opinions on the subject AFTER you've finished the read, I encourage you to take in this book. He was as intelligent as he was religious and I don't think that, for those who prescribe to either side of things, you can walk away from it without some consideration, however brief, for the other.)
For me, though, my quote will be about why I feel like what he wanted didn't come to pass YET and it happens to be a small piece of the "I have a dream" speech:
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
Yes. This quote.
I have a few friends that, if they should happen to read this, perhaps may bristle at the above quote. Truthfully I think a lot of quotes I could post up (by King or others) would have that reaction. And that, sadly, is a subject for another time, looking into why we get up bothered by certain statements that, on some level, we may question whether or not we agree with or find fair.
King's above statement has always stood as a polarized line that seered into my brain at a very young age. It mostly did so because I had no real, pure, experience with that issue until I was in my mid-20's. My childhood was, for reasons I still can't figure out, incredibly diverse. Rarely would I find myself in a place where I was capable of being singled out based on the color of my skin and, even if I were the only one who looked like me in the room, no ill or negative words or actions came my way. The first real time I realized I was being judged from my appearance didn't even happen in America, it happened in Canada!
But, when I was young, that statement became ingrained in me from the moment I heard it. Perhaps it was, for a young mind, the preposterousness of it all. Having the experiences I had, from my diverse section of social interactions to Mister Rogers always saying on his show that everyone was unique and special, I couldn't wrap my young mind around how anyone would judge a person based on their skin color. It was just an absurd concept to me.
(kudos, should be shared with my mom and other family members for this. Despite having uncles and a grandmother that loved them some "drank" and all the problems that come from that, neither them nor my home life with mom and her friends, ever presented the idea of statements about different races. I never heard "the white man this" or "black people that" things said in my childhood. In fact, I'm pretty sure the first time I heard some stuff on that level was in a cable film or when I got to the 6th grade and discovered bullies.)
So, for me, a person was always judged based on whom they were, not what their skin looked like. The "content of their character" was what became the point of how I determined who my fellow man would be.
But ever since my first step into high school, I've discovered that no one else seems to think like that. And, what's even worse, in my adulthood I have been privy to more uncomfortable exchanges about this subject than I ever thought could be imaginable.
For all the changes that Dr. King's actions and speeches have brought to America, for me it is disheartening that a greater desire to judge LESS on appearance and MORE on content of character, isn't one of them. In fact, that may very well be the thing we are the MOST selective about using to define the humanity around us with. I could regale you with stories of conversations I have heard from groups of men AND women, talks about the worth or lack of worth in those who's appearance fits one or many ideals of what makes someone "right" and "OK." The fact it is so commonplace in the way that we assess is something that constantly troubles me...and even more so when mentioning it causes people to get EXTREMELY defensive.
I don't think it should be this way though. It is likely one of the greatest things I have had guide me through life, making sure that I question whether or not I am keeping to King's hope for a humanity that looks to character as a place for deeming worth. I am no paragon of virtue and have faltered in times. I too have been tainted by distance from the first hearing of those words and what they were truly trying to get across. In a time where it seems that mankind has less and less humanity every day, where it seems as if no MAN is KIND, this one part of his speech is a priceless tool. It is a priceless tool that we all need to dust off, brandish in our hand, and keep building. We should all realize that the movement is still necessary, and that to achieve the sort of future that we'd like those younger than us to be a part of, its time to challenge ourselves, our societies prejudices, and redefine what we use to define people's worth with.
King felt that he should use a large part of his life to help change and uplift those in his lifetime...and beyond. Can we do no less? I think we could all do MORE. Let's get to work.