MLK NOW 2017: Taking Back Martin Luther King Day

With the creation of the King Monument on the National Mall in Washington DC, the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is now permanently chiseled into the granite face of the American experiment. That is a very big deal considering that he was deemed a pariah in 1964, when some estimates had his national approval rating at 2%.

Today, 49 years after his death, he is considered a national icon. However, many of King’s former detractors, as well as those who follow the same racist philosophies, have reshaped Dr. King into a marshmallow facsimile of what he once was.

They applaud his nonviolence, they play up his speeches about togetherness and use their own false interpretation of his words to admonish those who would carry the torch of nonviolent protest in the modern age. But it was four decades ago that Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte, Gil Scot-Heron and a collective of entertainers and activists helped make the Martin Luther King Holiday a reality, and many liberals and conservatives fought vehemently against that move. But you wouldn’t know that today as everyone from Donald Trump to Rob Schneider has something to say about what Dr. King “really stood for.” These warped interpretations are downright despicable and disrespectful.

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In making the film Selma, director Ava DuVernay often spoke of how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a “bad ass”, but much of his substance and fire had been scrubbed out and homogenized by the status quo over time. On January 16, a group of activism-minded artists teamed with ARRAY, The Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Macro Ventures, Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter, Color of Change and Million Hoodies to produce to MLK Now 2017, the second annual affair at the historic Riverside Church in Harlem. This year’s event featured the reciting of speeches at the site of one of Dr. King’s most impactful oratories.

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(Michelle Williams, Photo Credit:

His Beyond Vietnam speech in April 4, 1967 took place a year before Dr. King met his fate on the balcony of a Memphis hotel. The speech followed several statements he had made that year denouncing the Vietnam conflict and the impact of American imperialism on the globe. However, the modern reimagining of Dr. King constantly leaves out this speech. He was a radical man who had indicted the United States for its crimes in the year prior to his assassination. This is why Riverside Church is hallowed ground for the black resistance and black hope.

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(Q-Tip, Photo Credit:

Last year, the inner sanctuary witnessed Harry Belafonte, Ryan Coogler Michael B. Jordan, Chris Rock, Saul Wiliams, Octavia Spencer, J. Cole and a multitude of black creative minds and spirits that assembled to commemorate a great man and to inspire the future as well.

This year, David Oyelowo, Olivia Wilde, Andre Holland, Omari Hardwick, Michelle Williams and Q Tip were among the stars that commemorated the occasion of a speech that resonates today. The readings were intersected with musical, poetic and artistic interpretations from such talents as gospel singer Erica Campbell of Mary, Mary, Impact Repertory Theater, SOL Development, Samora Pinderhughes. Comedian Barantunde Thurston served as MC.

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(Olivia Wilde, Photo Credit:

There was also a panel discussion featuring Interactive One Vice President Jamilah Lemieux as moderator, and Ericka Huggins of the original Black Panther Party, Million Hoodies Executive Director Dante Barry, activist and champion of Chicago young people FM Supreme and others. The enlightening discussion covered a range of topics that activist-minded citizens should take heed to, and the dirty tricks to avoid.

These days, a lie can fly halfway around the world thanks to the Internet, and greedy demagogues looking to profit off racial animus, before the lie is unveiled. This arguably fueled much of the backlash against progressive folks in general, black people in particular. Lemieux had a bit of advice about being media savvy in the digital age and not helping those who deal in racially disrespectful  “news” material disguised as news revenue.

“Stay Woke, as the kid’s say, there’s no one source. We can all get things wrong. But understand who owns that channel. Who’s producing a reality show that is highly successful, then turn around and hires two women from Fox News who have a history of anti-blackness, saying things that are harmful? Then you’re thinking ‘This is a legitimate news organization. You’re going to normalize this?’ Well, they normalized Celebrity Apprentice.

“It’s important that before you share something with other people you vet it. Sometimes it’s better not to share. You received it, you realize something wasn’t quite right. But you put it out there. You’re creating revenue for those spaces, they’re getting their impressions. So that writer who may have written an offensive opinion is someone who might give value to that website. That website will say to their advertisers, ‘Look how many imprints we have per month.’ And they show up more on Facebook, they show up more on Twitter, because people are sharing them. Even sharing them in disgust because they’re so vile and so awful is making those pages credible and successful. So be careful, understand who to trust, look at how people talk about you, and don’t give folks too many chances.”

With the current animus-filled atmosphere where major news publications are purposefully bending the truth, the alt right has now been legitimized within the American experiment. It is an experiment that once combated Nazism and Facism and has now elected a man supported by Neo-Nazis, whose temperament and personality has been compared to a dictator.

It is now more important than ever that the real version of Dr. King is embraced and used to galvanize both leaders and followers alike into a continued stance of nonviolent militancy and resistance within a zeitgeist which continually normalizes hate. 

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