Monday Mayhem: Why King Isn’t a Superhero

Sacrifice.

That’s what I think of as we celebrate Martin Luther King today.

His life of sacrifice. His dedication to civil rights and his life long commitment to the struggle for equality–not just for African Americans–but for all Americans. It’s what made him so well loved and hated  (by some) in his time.

Yet, this idea of sacrifice is often thought of in such lofty terms that we don’t consider King’s humble beginnings. We don’t think of the small churches where he organized, the small following he began with and the many naysayers he had who criticized his methods.  In hindsight, King is a hero, in retrospect we hail him “King” with little thought for the cost of his kind of sacrifice.

But, hindsight is a funny thing. They say it’s 20/20, yet looking back tends to bend the prism of our perspective on how change happens. Thinking back on the marches and protests, petitions and progress of King and other leaders, we assume it all just happened as smoothly as turning the pages of our history books.

Thus, when we set out to make change we expect the same smooth strides from what is to what should be. We demand it, in fact, and become angry when it does not happen as quickly as we expect. We lament the “good ‘ol days” and bemoan the loss of “good ‘ol” leaders, like King, who can rally the people towards the goals we’ve set.  Obviously, hindsight is not 20/20. Nostalgia blinds us to the reality that change is never easy, rarely smooth and always requires sacrifice.

Sacrifice isn’t sexy.

Those who sacrifice have to give up something–they have to determine that one thing is worth losing in order to gain the other.  The problem comes when what is sacrificed is of greater value than what is gained.  King was willing to put his life on the line for the sake of an entire nation of people. His life was certainly valuable, but his legacy has meant a better life for millions.  You don’t see many like him these days. In this generation, it seems people are more concerned with their legacy first.  Everyone wants to be a leader, but no one wants to be a servant.  Sacrifce? We would rather be served!  “Butler, bring in the silver tray!”

We look to leaders in our communities to inspire us, but what made them leaders? Did they possess some special powers? Was Martin Luther King superhuman? No. He was a simple man who had a simple beginning and made a simple–not easy–choice that you and I can also make: to do what matters, to value what is important, to put the needs of others first.

While we like to look at the end result, we should not forget how it all began and where each of us can begin–right where we are.  It’s not about the legacy, it’s about the daily living. Each one of us can make a difference, but we need to do two things: (1) shift our focus away from how we think things used to be and (2) stop looking for an “ideal” leader to bring about a change that we ourselves are capable of creating.

The question is, what are we willing to sacrifice in order to obtain the future we wish for? How you respond to this may be in terms of where we are socially, politically or personally. The basic principle is the same.

Happy Monday

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Why Trump is Not “unprecedented”

The word ironic can mean coincidence or unexpected. The MLK holiday comes in the same week as the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. I would say that’s ironic because it’s a coincidence.

Eight years ago it was Barack Obama.  I would say that was ironic because it was unexpected.  Yet, it was also fitting because it apparently fulfilled the famous dream.  To the amazement of all who had very present memories of racial injustices, segregation and inequality, the first African American president raised his right hand and pledged to “faithfully execute the office of president of the United States…to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” No one missed the poignancy of this ascension to the highest office in the land, this audacity to set up residence in a house built by slaves. It made that inaugural day truly inaugural, both historic and unprecedented…

obamabidenThere’s another word for us wordies to think about, unprecedented.  It has become the buzzword for this current political season as businessman, reality show star, leader of the “birther” movement and Obama nemesis, Donald Trump set his sights on that highest office. (Of course, we remember that he misspelled the word in one of his infamous Twitter posts—“unpresidented”—perhaps he was attempting a pun?)  But, is Trump’s ascendance to that position more astonishing than Obama’s?  What made Obama so “different” was mostly his skin color. People criticized his lack of political experience, but he was president of the Harvard Law Review and senator for four years. He had, at least, been working in the political field.  Trump, on the other hand is “different” because his experience has been in corporate rather than national politics. Yet, this lack of experience was “trumped” by his wealth, race and gender. Being a wealthy white man opens doors that no amount of intelligence or experience can touch.

Let’s face it. If you’re black, poor, or female you have to prove yourself worthy of respect. If you’re white, rich and male you don’t have to prove anything.

Ironic? Not really. Unprecedented? Definitely, no. It’s the way of the world.

So, while many of us called Trump’s meteoric rise shocking, we have merely forgotten where we are. Those very present realities (not just memories) of racial unrest and inequality never went away. The fact that we had an African American president merely soothed us with the appearance of change. But the reality is we never entered that post-racial era that optimists heralded in 2008. Race is as much a divisive presence as it ever was in the past. Thus, with the rise of Donald Trump we merely see the resurgence of what was always there, white power “taking back” what it never lost. There’s the irony.  The real irony is that all the while that we clapped and cheered the rise of Obama, we were merely hailing a dream that is still deferred.

“…with the rise of Donald Trump we merely see the resurgence of what was always there, white power ‘taking back’ what it never lost. There’s the irony.”

This year, in the wake of the 2016 social and political unrest, the MLK holiday leaves me melancholy. The hope and change that I had hoped for hasn’t come and the future seems frighteningly uncertain with the mercurial man who stands next to lead.

Nonetheless, this image reminds me that the path forward must be paved in love.mlk5I am reminded that this is why we honor Martin Luther King every year, because his words are timeless, his vision unhindered by current circumstances, nor by the winds of change–good or bad.  Whether the dream is alive and well or withering like a raisin in the sun, we must keep hope alive! That’s no irony, just straight talk.

Happy MLK Day!

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