I listen to Martin Luther King’s speeches and sermons over and over again like some people listen to popular songs. I have my favorites, such as “The Other America,” “Where Do We Go from Here,” “The Drum Major Instinct,” and “"How Long, Not Long."
I like these better than the “I Have a Dream” speech because they have more substance.
In “The Drum Major” sermon, King said, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve” — regardless of your station in life.
In “The Other America” speech, King preached about wasting billions on an “ill-considered war” while neglecting the poor here in America.
When you examine the levels of poverty and unemployment in the nation today, I believe that King would determine that the nation had failed to heed his vision of jobs, justice and peace.
These days it’s hard to compete with the mainstream’s success in making King just a starry-eyed “dreamer” and a commercial commodity.
I was watching a football game during the holiday season when a commercial from one of the major retail chains announcing its MLK Day Sale popped up on the screen. It didn’t even use an image of King, just the initials “MLK,” accompanied by an array of appliances marked down for “the one-day event.”
Looking back to the dedication of the King Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., this past October, you couldn’t ignore the many corporate sponsors of the monument. The list of supporters was a who’s who of American business — General Motors, Tommy Hilfiger, Verizon, General Electric and Walmart, just to name a few.
Even so, I’m always thankful when Martin Luther King Day comes around.
Whatever the advertisers try to sell you and the politicians try to tell you, King’s message of unconditional love and nonviolent redemptive good and his steadfast attack on the evils of racism, poverty and militarism just cannot be ignored. They can try to co-opt him, but his image is always going to look odd next to a washing machine or a hamburger or a self-serving politician.
Kevin Alexander Gray is the author of the recently published books “Waiting for Lightning to Strike: The Fundamentals of Black Politics” and “The Decline of Black Politics: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama.” He can be reached at email@example.com.
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