I Caucus with Malcolm
With that said, this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend is different for me. For the better part of 20 or so years, I put on the CDs of his speeches over the weekend and spend time immersed in his aura and brilliance. Martin was a divine package: beautiful, prodigy level oration, gravity and gravitas, charismatic, deep voiced, arced toward justice. A locomotive.
This year I had the enormous opportunity to attend a BIPOC meditation retreat absolutely devoted to centering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy while marrying it with the dharma. Now, I’m not a Buddhist, I’m not really even Buddish--but this for me was an irresistible combination of spirituality, justice, and Black people. I got to immerse myself in his teachings while also taking another step in my nascent journey toward a more nuanced, complex spirituality that has 12-Step roots in my body.
I could say so much more about this retreat but I'd be here all week agonizing over the details.
You can hear the turning point in one of Martin's early speeches--1955’s MIA Mass Meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church--where the crowd he’d been priming heard the words they needed to hear and the promises that needed making. They were listening at first with sporadic shouts of agreement, but then he made a statement that shifted the whole tenor of the talk and the praise “[rolled] down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” I could tell you where it’s at but I want you to go and listen and find it for yourself.
The speech is about 15 minutes long. The audio is challenging so you’re going to have to lean in.
By the end of their lives, Martin and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz ultimately traded places in their tactical stances. I like to think it happened during the single time they managed to meet in person. I like to imagine that while they were shaking hands, Martin’s nonviolent agape love transferred to Malcolm and Malcolm’s by-any-means-necessary love infused Martin. They had so much in common and I try not to think how much farther we'd be if they'd been able to join forces.
Don’t skip the first part of the March on Washington speech. Most people like to stay stuck on the latter I Have a Dream part, which is safe and which puts white people at ease. No, start from the beginning where you will hear him eviscerate the system of oppression that upholds whiteness. Elements of his other speeches are concentrated here, such as my personal favorite, Give Us the Ballot.
Contrast allllll the other marches on Washington, from the Bayard Rustin organized March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom from which Martin’s speech derives, with what happened on January 6, 2021.
Martin wasn’t a saint. After all, he died while smoking a cigarette on a hotel balcony. But he was martyred for a justice that still eludes us today. I could also be here all day with my other thoughts about his life, legacy, and influence but I'll stop with this.
What have you done for justice lately?
When was the last time you walked in a march, arms linked, exposing your soft underbelly to rogue cops, certain that you would be met with violence?
When was the last time you were hit over the head with a baton and then sent to jail?
When was the last time you were stabbed in the chest, sat calmly waiting for aid, and then went on to give your entire life to justice?