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What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 5 Lessons Mean For This Moment & Beyond

What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 5 Lessons Mean For This Moment & Beyond | BL | Black Lion Journal | Black Lion

Dr. King during the March on Washington. Image by Robert W. Kelley Via Getty Images

Just a few days before the official celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Huffington Post published an article by Zeba Blay on Dr. King’s 5 lessons for an America under this new administration. The 5 lessons are more like interpretations from Dr. King’s legacy that we all can use when gathering together during moments that require action and solidarity.

On a day that serves as the beginning of a highly contested administration, nothing is left out of the political arena. Politics has become the forefront of daily life — and it should be. People are becoming more aware of their choices and of the consequences of non-participation. This means that more and more people are gathering to resist, protest, and give action to moments that will historically impact how we view each other and our government.

The article talked about how Dr. King’s words, over the last 40 years after his assassination, have become diluted, misdirected, and used to justify an oversimplified legacy of peace and equality. Although those too are issues he fought for, there are other lessons that we should draw courage from. Below are five interpretations I reinterpreted in my own words from both the article and Dr. King that I hope speak of a central theme throughout each — that of understanding:

Don’t be complacent In Accepting A “New Normal”

Blay sites this influential writing by Dr. King in which he addresses — more like warns — against the election of a candidate whose way of approaching his constituents eerily reflects what has happened in 2016. What does it mean when we way “this is not normal?” It means that we shouldn’t allow values that uphold love and goodness to become “trumped” or complacent to fear, hate, and racism. It’s a call to action that asks us to remember the power we have to not accept what has happened as a “new normal, so get used to it.” That kind of thinking serves to delegitimize the very real fear and concern people are living with everyday.

Focusing On Economic Similarities Can Unite Difference

Blay talks about Dr. King’s 1968 sermon “The Drum Major Instinct,” in which he says that “[w]e all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade.” The sermon leaves its readers and its listeners (you are able to hear an audio of the sermon) with a sense of understanding. It says that by setting aside racial issues — not through color blindness but by an understanding of our similarities — we can begin to find common ground and a path toward acceptance.

“Now that’s a fact. That the poor white has been put into this position, where through blindness and prejudice, (Make it plain) he is forced to support his oppressors. And the only thing he has going for him is the false feeling that he’s superior because his skin is white—and can’t hardly eat and make his ends meet week in and week out. (Amen)” — Dr. King in “The Drum Major Instinct”

Movements Require Participation From All

“While social media has changed and even enhanced activist work, Dr. King’s on-the-ground mobilization is something to be emulated.” — Zeba Blay

Movements for equality require action in the form of participation. Blay sites that between 1961 and 1968, the SCLC’s Citizenship Education Program trained over 8,000 people in organizing. This means that all must work together — regardless of distinctions used to divide each other — to create the change that we want to see in this country. It’s a necessity that can’t be disregarded.

All forms of protest should be understood

The news often categorizes specific types of protests as “riots” — and, unfortunately, these categorizations are often defined by racial terms. In an 1967 speech, Dr. King called for an understanding and appreciation for alleviating grievances. Blay sites Dr. King’s response to riots: “riots are a “distorted form of social protest,” and that looting “enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse.” Although disapproved by many (and not endorsed here), it should be understood why individuals choose to act in a destructive way and often times violent way.

“The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community” — Dr. King

Understand The Power Of Love

“How do we empathize with people who cannot show empathy for us?” — Zeba Blay

This is the question to end all questions. For too long has the burden of empathy resided on the shoulders of individuals who are marginalized and oppressed. When Dr. King is remembered, he is usually quoted for his teaching of love and non-violence. What I think people forget is that Dr. King referenced a form of love understood in the Greek word Agape. Blay quotes from Dr. King’s 1957 essay in which he speeaks not of the sentimental kind of love — but one of understanding.

“In speaking of love we are not referring to some sentimental emotion. It would be nonsense to urge men to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense … When we speak of loving those who oppose us we speak of a love which is expressed in the Greek word Agape. Agape means nothing sentimental or affectionate; it means understanding, redeeming goodwill for all men, an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.”

BL | Black Lion Journal | Black LionPartial quotes from The Huffington Post written by Zeba Blay. Header image from the Women’s March On Washington Facebook Page.

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