Do we know why we celebrate MLK?

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We, as a race of people, have retrogressed on many fronts and made very little, if any, progress beyond the 1964 and 1965 laws. These past political elections are true indicators of our lack of appreciation and understanding of our struggles.

I have been an active student of the civil rights movement since my childhood in Hernando, Mississippi. I attended segregated schools from a one-room school house in Mississippi through the 12th grade in Memphis, Tennessee. Blacks were not allowed to attend White colleges in Memphis in 1962, so Lincoln University, a Black college in Jefferson City, Missouri was my choice.

I grew up in an all-Black community in Memphis because we were not permitted to live in a White community. Blacks in Memphis were not legally authorized to go to the fairgrounds but once a year. Blacks had one day, Wednesday, to visit the Memphis Zoo. Ironically, we could only see the monkeys, gorillas and apes.

Brother was murdered

When I was 12 years old and Emmett Till was 14, he was lynched in Money, Mississippi, not far from Hernando and Memphis. My mother and other ladies in the Black communities were running through the neighborhoods screaming that White folks are killing little Black boys and rushing us into the house. My brother was murdered by racists in 1963 in Biloxi, Mississippi. He was 21 years old and I was 19.

Dr. King was murdered on my birthday, April 4, in Memphis in one of the neighborhoods where I grew up. The Lorraine Motel, the murder scene, was one of the few places Black high school students could visit after their prom, because it had a small ballroom inside.

Went to Washington

As a 19-year-old sophomore student at Lincoln University and a member of the Student Government Association, I attended the 1963 March on Washington, D.C. Some 20 years later (1983), I participated in the 20th anniversary of Dr. King’s speech while living in Washington, D.C., as a dean of the College of Education at the Black University of the District of Columbia.

I’ve done hundreds of Dr. King’s speeches celebrating his life and legacy. As of today, we, as Blacks, are still dreaming and waiting on another Dr. King to lead us. Too many Blacks have allowed others to suggest that we need a leader.

We are all leaders in our own right. God made all of us, made us different, but made us equal. We all can serve. God gave all of us a ”niche.” Hopefully, Black Americans will continue to pray and support, invest in, trust, and respect each other and our elders.

We must protect and teach our children about our rich history in America and worldwide. We must teach our people how to use their own leadership skills and stop dreaming and waiting on someone else to decide and appoint us a leader. This is why Black folks cannot move beyond Dr. King’s death and birthday celebration.

They laid the foundation

We are standing on the shoulders of many giants in Africa and in America. Hundreds of years ago, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and others paved the way for Dr. King

My godmother, the Honorable Shirley Chisholm and my mentor, Charles W. Cherry, Sr., told me that we must study and analyze ourselves rather than being studied and analyzed by others. We must know our history.

“We need to give our people more experience and exposure so they will know how to act, react and understand the real issues in life. But we can’t give our young people this experience and exposure if we don’t have it ourselves, especially, if we continue to hate each other and continue to be jealous of each other’s accomplishments,” they said.

Do we know ?

We celebrated MLK Day on January 20. I always memorialize Dr. King’s death on April 4, my birthday.

Do we really know why we are celebrating? Do we know our real history? Or do we just want a day of rest, relaxation, partying and eating? Do we know where our children are? Do we know who is teaching our children?

Do we know that we are worse off today as a race of people than we were 51 years ago on April 4, 1968 when Dr. King was assassinated? We can see this digression on every front, including poorer, segregated neighborhoods; more segregated schools that have been diverted from traditional public schools to public charter schools; loss of small businesses in the Black community; no more real, traditional Black communities; homeless military veterans, many of them Black.

We have lost many Black two-and four-year colleges and lose more every year because of a lack of real support from the Black community. There is a lack of real committed leadership and trained educational professionals that clearly understand our struggle and our history as a race of people.

Black churches should do more for our communities and come together as a cohesive group to assist the elderly, the poor and the young. Today, the most segregated day of the week is still Sunday.

Changes on paper

So as we continue to “dream,” nothing changes. The 1964 and 1965 laws were supposed to bring about some changes. They did. But we are still trying to get full voting rights, quality education, affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, convicted felons’ rights restored, decent-paying jobs, reduce Black-on-Black crime, and strengthen the family structure which has eroded tremendously.

I remember growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s when Blacks owned grocery stores; our neighborhoods were relatively clean and safe; there were small businesses – newspapers, radio stations, banks, funeral homes – and many other enterprises were flourishing. Today, most of them are gone.

What happened? Who do we blame? Do we really know why we are celebrating Dr. King’s Birthday?

We, as a race of people, have retrogressed on many fronts and made very little, if any, progress beyond the 1964 and 1965 laws. These past political elections are true indicators of our lack of appreciation and understanding of our struggles.

Economics and politics

If we don’t have real political and economic power and if we aren’t active participants at the decision-making table where we can be properly informed of the issues that affect our daily lives, we as a race are doomed to continue to fail.

If Dr. King was alive today, he would be grossly disappointed with our progress.

As one of my great heroes Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will.”

Dr. Willie J. Greer Kimmons is an award-winning educational consultant for pre K-16 and Title I schools, teachers and parents. He is also a motivational speaker, author, former classroom teacher, superintendent of schools, college professor, college president and chancellor.

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