Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

Today, people will be celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – and rightfully so. But’s more than just a free Monday off from work or school. And honestly, I get tired of the people who trot him out once a year as their version of the perfect protester instead of  recognizing and celebrating the true shit-disturber he really was.

Given the times we live in, where there’s serious question to the legitimacy of the current presidency and members of Congress are dropping like flies (retiring or resigning at a record pace) my kids may need to step up to save the country. As my younger daughter might appreciate, given she’s starting rehearsals for Hamlet this week, something’s rotten in the state of Denmark.

So to me, it’s all fine and dandy that we celebrate what an awesome orator Martin Luther King was and that we all come away inspired and hopeful after listening to his “I Have a Dream” speech, but I want my kids to know that Martin Luther King was a radical who was arrested 30 times – and a man who never gave up even after being threatened, having his house bombed, and being targeted by the FBI to discredit his efforts.

I want my kids to know that Martin Luther King was thrust into the limelight because he was one of the few preachers around who was willing to call for a one-day boycott of the bus system (a boycott that ended up lasting 381 days) after Rosa Parks was arrested. A man who evolved into his role of leadership and non-violence over time, with effort and a willingness to learn and grow. A man whose tenacity and willingness to envision a different future caused that future to happen.

My feeling has always been that they have never understood what I was saying. They did not see that there’s a great deal of difference between nonresistance to evil and nonviolent resistance. Certainly I’m not saying that you sit down and patiently accept injustice. I’m talking about a very strong force, where you stand up with all your might against an evil system, and you’re not a coward. You are resisting, but you come to see that tactically as well as morally it is better to be nonviolent. – Martin Luther King

I want my kids to know that resistance is not futile, and that choosing a peaceful path is not easy.

To not merely adopt pacifism as a personal philosophy, but rather to stake your career and your organization’s future on a belief in the power of nonviolence as a political force, requires tremendous determination. It took years of deliberation and delay for Martin Luther King to take such a step. But when he finally did, the result was decisive: King went from being someone who had been repeatedly swept up in the saga of civil rights — a reluctant protagonist in the battle against American apartheid — to being a shaper of history. – Waging Nonviolence

Finally, I want my kids – my white, privileged kids – to know that co-opting Martin Luther King, Jr. for one day out of each year without upholding his values and beliefs the rest of the year is just hypocrisy.

We have a long way to go in achieving real equal rights and equality, but Martin Luther King, Jr. remains the model we should follow  – not just in peaceful resistance but in radical opposition as well.

To learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr., visit The King Center and The King Institute at Stanford.