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January 20, 2003

The Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Many of us are sitting at home today, free to do as we please.. tossing some cereal around in a bowl of milk, frying up eggs or pancakes.. and you have one person to thank for that pleasure: Martin Luther King Jr. I know those are some little, petty things, but let's be honest.. besides Thanksgiving and Christmas, does anyone ever celebrate a national holiday for it's true meaning? Have you dug up your history books to study George Washington on the all important President's Day. Stop lying, cause you know you can't even find that history book.

It's at once unfortunate and great that MLK Jr. is recognized with this day of remembrance. The great part is obvious, given that his determination for equality is what fueled the civil rights movement. A movement that resulted in the right to enjoy basic freedoms: eating where you please, riding public transportation in the seat of your choice, and using public restrooms. Again.. these are basics.. but can you imagine walking into McDonalds and the manager tells you to get your behind outta there before he calls the cops. "We don't serve niggers!"

How about your in the middle of the town and have to use the bathroom.. now.. right now. You walk into a local establishment and ask if you can use the restroom. They point you to a sign that says: No Coloreds. Doesn't matter if it's two feet away from you, your either gonna hold it or walk the streets with an embarrassing warm, wet spot on yourself.

Not to mention the outright shouts of nigger this and nigger that.. just outright disrespect from people who truly believed that black people were not people at all, but something lower than a human being and for that reason felt no reason to treat us as anything but trash.

The history behind racism is a study in itself..

This day marks the legacy of a man who stood up and decided to do something about the injustices he witnessed and experienced. It was a fight waged from 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on that bus, to the day that he was cut down by a sniper on April 4, 1968.

The unfortunate side of this holiday is that Dr. King's work has been filtered into one speech and one message: "I have a dream." Who doesn't remember that from school? It's a lovely little pacifying message that loses the passion in which it was delivered by the continued replaying of that small segment of the speech. His entire life has been zipped up into a neat package that reads: preacher, "I have a dream," March on Washington, non-violent. That's all you need to know. The nature of today's media works from the concept that people have short attention spans and no interest in the details, so they keep things moving at 15-30 second clips. Watch any major news program and you'll see this in action. So.. with MLK Jr.on the national stage, by nature your gonna get that instant breakfast treatment.

If we want to learn more and be inspired by this man's work we'll have to grab a mouse and start digging for the information ourselves.

For example, this bio and lesson on the important qualities of a leader Martin Luther King Jr.: Life, Leadership and Language. It's an excellent primer on the importance of Martin Luther King Jr.

Then there are the seven books that he's written.. which I must admit, I had no clue of. Stamp me as a victim of the educational system. Again, what's important is that we do the work on our own.. and that's not exclusive to race.. if you want more info, more knowledge, inspiration, the recipe for success.. you have to read.

Just before I wrote this, I was looking through Rolling Out, a free urban newspaper, and they listed all of the books MLK Jr. has authored:

You might think that the books would be filled with dry, outdated speeches that don't relate to conditions in 2003. However, this quote from The Trumpet of Conscience  could very well be talking about the state of the world today.. the state of of hip-hop today and the distaste some have for the glorification of money over other issues: "Nothing in our glittering technology can raise man to new heights, because material growth has been made an end in itself, and in the absence of moral purpose, man himself becomes smaller as the works of man become bigger.. When culture is degraded and vulgarity enthroned, when the social system does not build security but induces peril, inexorably the individual is impelled to pull away from a soulless society."

That's some powerful *ish. I'm sure that I'll be taking a look at that book and .. The Measure of a Man.. I'm drawn to the cover and the title.

The struggles that African-Americans faced pre-civil rights era, haven't been wiped clean entirely, but we do enjoy tremendous freedoms over what our grandparents and great grandparents lived with back then. The discrimination we face today is more or less hidden; it's written into overall social policies; the way schools are funded; the way people are treated in the press. Discrimination takes place quietly.. as was revealed in a study released last week, that said some employers chose job applicants by looking at their names. If your name was Shaquana Jackson, you were less likely to be called over Cindy Adams, no matter how great your work experience or educational background was.

That is something that's both hard to prove and hard to regulate once it's identified. Racists of this type will always exist.

In my eyes, the legacy that MLK Jr. left us is the importance of self-determination. We have to determine our own future. And that future can only be realized through action. Dr. King gave many speeches.. talks about the importance of voting rights for instance.. but he didn't stop there. The next day he and a small group of supporters went down to the courts attempting to register to vote. Acting on King's desire not to retaliate, they took lumps upside the head and kicks to the stomach. Yet.. he came back the following week to try again.

A lot of people talk the talk.. but when it comes down to it are they willing to sacrifice for that cause? Not many. And that's what separates MLK Jr. from the pack.. and Malcolm X (who was just as important) they lit a spark under the people. But neither one of them could have accomplished anything with out acting on their ideas.

That's the lesson we should take from the examples they set. Everyone of us has a dream, something that we wish to do.. it could be as simple as getting washboard abs or toning up our bodies for the summer.. it could be as grandiose as becoming a recording star or a movie director.. what's necessary is that we act on that desire. With the minimum of fifteen minutes a day.. you can get those abs you desire. How long do you think it takes to do 75-100 sit-ups a day? Get off your ass and start crunching. Action. And more action. That's what gets things done.

You want to be a movie director? The majority of film directors study the basics of film, are inspired by other filmmakers and then most importantly.. make their own films. Experience.. action in the field...is what opens the door for success.

The challenge here is to believe in yourself even when the situation looks far from ever becoming reality. Belief in spite of the appearance of things is essential to all success. It's strange but.. success never seems to comes without adversity attached to it. There is a saying that goes: just when you think that you have succeeded, is the moment that you will face your biggest challenge. Confronting that challenge is what separates winners and losers. Six packs and inches of fat hanging over your belt.

Whatever your challenge is, get out there and confront it. Attack it bit by bit, and never give up. In the beginning your always alone.. only a few believe in you.. but you march to the rhythm of your inner self. The self that says this is the right thing for me and a greater good. If Martin Luther King Jr. hadn't done so, we as African-Americans might still be looking for the basic freedoms of human life.

- C. Grandison

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