MLK Day and “The Talk”

By Jeff Harrison

“There is nothing wrong …. Do not attempt to adjust…You are about to experience the awe and mystery…from the deepest inner mind to the outer limits.” [‘Outer Limits’]

“We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice, Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.” [King]

Warning: Do not let this article, limited by a character count, personify a life you live that is also character limited.  Ignorance is sustained by perpetuating a lack of dialogue, education and compassion while reinforcing isolation and avoidance.  Hopefully this article will provide some insight as to how to create an invitation to have ‘the talk’ and lead to courageous conversations.  

Ever struggle on your FAA physical with the various, vision tests?  How ironic that 20/20 is the standard (vision) in a year (2020) where nothing was standard and how some would argue that we had lost sight of what makes us American.  During the 2020 summer, we rallied around the ‘Invisible Man’ [Ellison] nobody saw for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until we, ultimately, lost him in the streets of Minnesota; a young woman’s death leaving a nation asking why we encouraged others to say her name; a Titan to many and ‘Native Son’ [Wright] to others that promoted making ‘good trouble’, and one of the most controversial elections that had the politicians, media and communities playing sides to determine if it was won, lost or stolen.  As we usher in 2021, there are so many things we have to be thankful for (job, job protection by our unions and their constant challenging to improve work conditions).  I, also, am grateful for the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral.  It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all.  The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.  It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.  Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love.  It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.  Violence ends by destroying itself.  It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.” [King]

Let’s now focus on King’s: “…the arc of justice is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I recently saw a Showtime series entitled ‘Pleasantville’.  It got my attention, visually, because all the graphics were black, white and gray. Then something happened and color started being exhibited by certain folks in the town.  Each side (monochromatic versus chromatic) wanted the other to conform to what they represented.  This portrayal similarly represented the angst we experience today.  It’s not that either side is better, or less important, than the other.  Rather, all sides are just as important to be heard, seen and respected.  The gist of King’s quote, our moral universe, will be long because it’s in constant flux, impacted by social norms, tribulations and politics, but what democracy doesn’t exhibit this flux?  After all, true democracy is made up of free-thinking people that determine what rules, regulations and protocols will be voted as the new standard(s). 

During this societal bend towards justice, pay attention as to how you can tamp down the strife of our differences and enjoy the full spectrum of what each demographic has to offer.  A flashpoint like Black Lives Matters, shows a course correction that we are living in a monochromatic “Pleasantville” and not, fully, enjoying nor respecting the beautiful hues of color within all communities.  The very origin and testament of our illustrious organization and other affinity groups/organizations like ours speak to the fact that society has to further its journey towards justice!  Sad observation; storming the Capitol, vandalizing and looting do not represent the majority or core parts of what our democracy represents.  These corrosive (internal) behaviors sometimes get magnified by eroding (external) behaviors.  The best illustration I can offer is that some of us tend to feel a certain way about a subject but don’t allow that “internal rusting” (corrosive) be manifested into external communication.  Others tend to get influenced by external (erosive) factors such as social media, visually representative affiliations and incendiary language/symbols to magnify emotions beyond control.  Unfortunately, most people are prone to open their mouths first in response to something “different”, than they are to open their minds, hearts or wallets.  Have you ever fallen victim to voicing something that you’d later regret?  Conversely, the hesitancy to provide a value-added perspective, negates your opportunity to grow or gain enlightenment to/from a different perspective.

My perspective, the MLK holiday, first and foremost, is not a Black holiday.  Do not get me wrong, most of the folks within this organization are advocates of this holiday, but some of our fellow Americans don’t view this holiday as necessary.  Rather than explaining through the lens of a Black or African-American perspective, try this approach.  It’s now recognized as a day of service and self-reflection resultant from how an individual can change the culture of a morally decaying society.  Here’s a factoid.  The King family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 1999.  The jury found the conspirators named in the lawsuit, guilty!  The awarded damages–just $100!!  The King family chose to donate the $100 to charity.  To think of all the challenges and the ultimate sacrifice that Dr. King endured for millions of people which benefited:  believers and non-believers of equal justice, equal pay, white privilege and a fair playing field in the job market.  When you view it through that lens, what could ever be a fair judgement to make his family and our society whole?  Perhaps the MLK holiday should serve as perfect conduit to have “the talk” and a day we would, collectively, universally and selflessly perform an act of service.  Volunteer at a local food bank, help a non-profit organization, donate to support an agency or organization aimed at improving your community (I might be partial, but charity should start at home).

Fun fact, have you ever noticed that the word community has “u” exactly in the middle?  It also needs “u” to start unity.  Moreover u, me, i and our are all embedded in King’s name.  These reflective points bear witness that this holiday is best executed at the grassroots level.  There is so much more to take away from how Dr. King helped the unions, the disenfranchised and the ill-represented demographics.  Please use the following perspectives to equip you in conducting “the talk”.  

“Leaders are Readers” [Truman] and Followers are Borrowers.  We are a mixture, transitioning in and out of both positions.  Continually read how different perspectives and actions improve and enhance the station(s) of all citizens, including the disenfranchised, marginalized and least represented.

“True friendship is defined when the silence between two people is comfortable”. [Gentry]  I shouldn’t fear saying something when an opinion or perspective is asked.  I should fear it if my “rust” overrides my subconscious.  Likewise, if uncomfortable silence solely exists due to what I might say in a diverse or public forum is offensive.

King said “the time is always right to do what is right”.  Double-down on his quote and ask “if not me, then who?  If not now, then when?” [multiple]

Back to that FAA vision exam, hopefully, u and i can c all the letters, events, people and tools that really provide better vision than what 20/20 offered.  However, if some of the people referenced and things spoken about left you scratching your head, maybe now is that time to use some of the tools prior to having “the talk.  May the readers and audiences of this go forth, fortify your armor with facts, encourage others to have courageous conversations and, most of all, keep the legacy of Dr. King alive when frustration is growing, hope is fading or your surroundings and society seems to bend toward decay rather than justice!

“Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities” [Voltaire]