Why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Is Still My Hero


 

Martin Luther King, Jr. photographed by Marion S. Trikosko, 1964. LC-DIG-ppmsc-01269 Source: Library of Congress
Martin Luther King, Jr. photographed by Marion S. Trikosko, 1964. LC-DIG-ppmsc-       01269 Source: Library of Congress

 

On the occasion of marking and commemorating another birthday of the American icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to revisit why I still consider him one of the biggest heroes in my own life. A hero for me is someone who, given a certain set of circumstances, acts in a way we believe or  hope we would act in the same or similar circumstances. Given the opportunity to confront American racism and its effects head on, Dr. Martin Luther King choose to do it time and time again, until one of those battles cost him his life. Was he a perfect man devoid of his own human frailties ? Of course not. Did he make mistakes ? Why, of course. That being said, did he stay true to his vision of one America, as spelled out in his oft quoted “I Have a Dream ” speech ? I would have to argue emphatically “Yes “. Growing up in 1970s America ( I was five years old when Dr. King was assassinated ), this was the vision I came to believe in for America as well. The fact that Whites and Blacks could not live together peacefully was counterintuitive to my prepubescent and adolescent brain. It seemed so simple to me back then, and it still does today – that how could this not be every American’s view when one of our founding documents says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” ? Learning at an early age about one of America’s greatest ironies, that the Founding Fathers ( including the man who wrote those groundbreaking words from the Declaration of Independence himself) were slave owners, only served to make me cling to Dr King’s vision all the more. It was the embodiment, to me, a white kid in Cincinnati, Ohio, of what America is, of what she should stand for and what she should strive for. I would hasten to say, looking back, that this vision that was communicated by Dr. King in the summer of 1963, when I was but three days old, is a vision that I have ascribed to my entire life, including my present day. Knowing now that I partially come from Southern ancestors who were slave owners in North Carolina and Virginia, that other family members were avowed racists their entire lives and that at least one of my blood relatives was an active member of the Klan,makes my heart heavy in grief and remorse. When I think about the pain and suffering that members of my family caused directly and indirectly to my Black brothers and sisters, I seek solace in Dr King’s vision. Even more than that, I recommit myself time and time again to making it a reality by doing what I can to alleviate and reverse the effects of decades of racial hatred that members of my own family helped propagate and were involved in. While I will never face the pressures and certain realities of what Dr.King faced or what any average Black person in America faces on a daily basis, for that matter,I also realize that the fight for racial justice is part of why I am here on this planet. Lost in a lot of what is said about Dr. King and his non violent moment at this time of year , I think, is the fact that at his core he was a gritty, indefatigable and tenacious fighter  for what he believed what was right. Why is he still my hero after all these years ? Because I feel like I want to be and that I can be like him by facing that recalcitrant monster called American racism, just as tenaciously as he did, whenever I see it. And because I like to think and hope that in my own little tiny way, I show the same heart and courage and will continue to display the same heart and courage that this great man of love and spirit displayed in copious amounts. Happy Birthday Dr.King, my love for you and the ideals you stood for will never die.

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