Monday, January 21, 2013

Reclaiming the Message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Every year, I try to find new ways to appreciate Dr. King a bit more. Ever since I wrote an article a few years ago at my old newspaper wondering if the younger generation still appreciated him, I wonder if I’m doing enough to keep his message alive.

A week ago, I brought a message to my junior high/high school kids at youth group on King to help them realize the power of having a dream. I encouraged them to not just dream, but dream big and put some actions behind it. Don’t be afraid to evolve your dream but also realize the power of your thoughts and words.

Too often, we stick to the same narrative on Dr. King and sometimes those words lose their significance. For me, I want to keep finding new ways to remain impressed by his words, his actions so that he remains alive and relevant.

For example re-read the first part of I Have a Dream. We’ve mostly heard the dreaming part but that first part is as harsh, bold and challenging as the second. He calls out America for giving Black people “a bad check “ that failed to secure their rights as citizens. He cautions Black people not to fall prey to hating White America.

It’s a bold challenge to stay focused on the mission of nonviolence and challenging America to do better by her people. It’s a call to not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters and righteous like a mighty stream.” It demands that now is the time for change.

"This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children." - From the 1st half of "I Have a Dream"

And yet, we only focus on that dream portion. But that optimism means so much more in the context of the entire speech.

That famous portion that gets misused and abused because it’s not calling for colorblindness but for us to not be held captive and judgmental by color alone. He called for people to remove prejudice, not all manner of seeing color. A man who sought to understand the condition of the heart would never dare ignore what one brings to the table with their race, socioeconomic status, neighborhood and more.

That’s what preachers do. They speak to the heart and challenge people to not just be better but do better by their deeds. He showed this in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail

When I read this Saturday for the first time, I saw a challenge to the church to always be on the frontlines of justice and not the status quo. He may have been speaking to eight preachers back then but he is speaking to all people of faith, all clergy now. We must be extremists for love and justice. We must break unjust laws in the name of pursuing justice. As Christians, we must be on the frontlines for love/justice/sacrifice.

"So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century."

Every battle he fought – racism, militarism, poverty, restoring self-worth, fear – was based in his calling as a preacher. He never lost sight of his faith and he acted on it always. He preached universal truth and wisdom on justice that was rooted in the Scriptures and he never tried to waver from it. That’s what inspires me to this day.

So when people co-opt Dr. King and attempt to pervert the totality of his message, it offends me. He was a master with his words and his vision and as somebody who studied how to read things closely, you need to always remember the context in which he said them.

He was no passive dreamer. He didn’t try to only change hearts. He didn’t want us to ignore our differences. He wanted us to ACT for change. Unite for dignity. Be courageous for love in many forms, dream big for yourself and speak up/walk against injustice.

As we continue to celebrate his legacy, I hope to continue reclaiming Dr. King as a man who fought, walked, lived and died for justice in every form. A dreamer who committed his actions to that dream. A man far greater than most of us realize. I leave you with this underrated speech showing his love for his people.


  1. Excellent--well compiled and well written!

  2. Well done. Thank you for sharing this today..