Reviving Radical King: My Reflections on Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service
It was truly amazing to experience and partake in my first day of service at Abington Friends School. A spirit of hope and faith filled our campus and extended into the larger community as we united to Bear Witness through Truth, Action, and Love.
Such days typically spark deep reflection for me. As such, I was reminded of Langston Hughes’ poem, Harlem:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I found myself thinking, what happens to a dream deferred? More specifically, what happened to Dr. King’s dream? It’s been over 50 years since Dr. King delivered his famous speech. And, it’s been over 50 years since Dr. King was assassinated and perhaps to some, along with him, his dream, prophetic fire, and radical resistance to injustice.
At times, across our nation, it appears as if Dr. King and his legacy are treated like a buffet line where folks pick and choose which version of King to consume, which version of King appeals to their appetite. Far too often we, as a society, wax poetic about the commercialized and condensed characteristics of King. We make space for the ideologies we can stomach because they do not disrupt our regular routines nor disempower us.
In the spirit of the prophetic tradition and Quaker practice, I believe it is time for us to “speak truth to power” and revive radical King, to wrestle with and honor the completeness of his life’s work. We must be vigilant not to be lulled into complacency. We do not need comfortable and convenient progress; we need radical and revolutionary change. That is what Dr. King called for, that is his legacy.
While I certainly look forward to next year’s day of service, there is much to be done before then. Establishing a commitment to everyday courage, exhibiting empathy, and truth telling is a place to start; this will carry us forward, no matter what day it is.
Onward and Upward,