When I was first starting to make words here on the internet, I posted a small tribute to MLK. It was 10 years and 2 days ago. I remember being surprised by the backlash of emails and comments from all the racists and haters. He wasn’t great because of this, he was a bad person because of that. “Dirty you are an idiot to fall for that liberal propaganda” (actual email I received).
My freshman year of high school, a teacher made us read a bunch of Martin Luther King speeches for a homework assignment over the long weekend. He handed out blurry photo copies to the class, it was a startling stack of papers for a kid to see. I wasn’t very good at school, or even reading, back then. But for some reason I was captivated by the thought of a man who led a revolution (and died for it) and now has a holiday in his honor. Just like a president or an explorer, this dude must have been the real deal.
I first dug into Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Right from the start, he comes out swinging saying basically, I don’t normally respond to dipshits but you guys seem a little less fucked than most. That’s some Punk Rock shit, right there. I kept reading. This dude sure does like to use a lot of words. But holy crap, he is dropping some knowledge.
I then moved on to the “I Have a Dream” speech. By this time I was familiar with the crescendo of the speech. We have all heard the soundbites. But I had no idea there was so much more to it. A line stood out to me: “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note…” I didn’t even know what that meant so I asked my great grandfather, who’s porch I was sitting on. He explained it out of context and in, and my mind was blown. He started to tell me about how immigrant Italians like him were treated like shit when they came to America. But nothing compared to what the people with darker skin go through every day in this country. What the hell? I tried to take the conversation further but it wasn’t something he wanted to talk about any more. I remember that moment clearly. He seemed conflicted and angry. It was rare for such a badass to be flustered.
My lesson was rounded off with “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”. This one seemed a little different, a little more casual compared to the other two. It fired up my imagination. I visualized the scenarios he described. I busted out a globe and looked where Mephis and Jerusalem were. I didn’t understand everything he was talking about, but I got the vibe.
“…because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”
I had so many questions. Is the world messed up now? Why was it so messed up then? 1968 wasn’t very long ago. Holy shit. I sure hope everyone else in my class read these for their homework.
There are a whole bunch of great speeches. I would encourage you to check them out. We have supercomputers in our pockets. There is no excuse not to know. Three speeches forced on me as a kid opened my mind to the evil injustices humans are capable of. But also the power of the human spirit to not back down and make change happen. The likes of MLK, Mandela, Gandhi and Chavez will always stand up and be heard. Who is that going to be in this generation? I can’t wait to find out.
It’s OK to stand up for what’s not right. Even if the haters have made you a little numb.
Today I celebrate the punk rock middle fingers MLK gave to the crusty old system. Let’s all go ride bikes and be excellent to each other!