Before MLK’s messaging and quotes were cherry-picked to meet the agendas of corporations, his civil rights activities were met with violence, and many Americans opposed his ideas and messaging. At the time of the Freedom Riders, even during his, I have a dream speech era, his approval rating was about 22 percent. It wasn’t until the marches in Selma that the tide began to turn. And it’s all thanks to network television wanting to create a spectacle out of the protests. This moment in history impacted network ratings and the conscience of many Americans and, therefore, how they viewed the Civil Rights movement.
Particularly after King was assassinated, influencers, politicians, and corporations want us to think Dr. King as the most significant civil rights pacifist of our time. However, MLK believed that pacifism led to self-righteousness and the alienation of people and solutions. The narrative around his legacy forgets MLK’s thoughts on anti-capitalism and war sentiments, not to mention his radical ideals such as the “Poor People’s Campaign.” Ideals that saw possible faults in his dream and centered around economic empowerment, redistribution of wealth, and the restructuring of society.
Now that we are past MLK Day and celebrating Black History Month, let’s shift our focus from observance days and surface-level solutions. If we are to truly honor the life and legacy of Dr. King and those we highlight and celebrate during Black History Month, we need to begin “doubling down” on the issues that negatively impact
vulnerable communities. There are issues such as police brutality, housing discrimination, racial income and health disparities, and much more. We should turn our attention and dollars to increasing the awareness of these life-changing resources that can help communities become stable and break generational curses.
Let's start investing in nonprofit organizations and policies that not only provide resources but also provide disruptive solutions to long-term issues. For instance, supporting policies that would cancel student loan debt. Also, ridding students, particularly those of color, of a monthly bill will provide much-needed disposable income to POC families, making ten times less than the average white family.
We are still a long way from MLK’s promised land, and maybe that land needs to be reenvisioned. But, if we don’t think radically to support and empower our vulnerable communities, then we will continue to whitewash not only the narrative of MLK’s messaging but our history and potential future.