Each year social media is flooded with homages to the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many organizations use the holiday weekend celebrating his birthday as an opportunity to push for better outcomes.
Ahead of the annual holiday celebrating the late civil rights leader, the King Center announced the strategic theme for 2023 as “Cultivating a Beloved Community Mindset to Transform Unjust Systems.” Beyond the annual holiday observance, the King Center has laid out the strategic theme to support year-long planning and activities, hoping to spur more dedicated work to transform injustice.
If it wasn’t clear before, three years of a pandemic has taught us that uplifting and cultivating a beloved community requires more than a single day of service or posting quotes, often out of context.
As politicians and other so-called leaders race to give praise and deliver speeches invoking King’s legacy, there needs to be a deep reflection on how King’s words and life guide their actions 365 days a year. Not just the second Monday in January.
In King’s birthplace of Atlanta, Georgia, banners and murals give a semblance of concern with his words. Meanwhile, the city’s current trajectory is at odds with the legacy of one of its most famous residents. The city too busy to hate, and the so-called cradle of the modern civil rights movement has the highest income inequality in the country.
The Atlanta City Council, including many Black elected officials and the city’s Black mayor, pushed onward with a disastrous plan to build a mega-facility for cops destroying a part of the nation’s largest urban forest in the process. The planned development of the project, dubbed “cop-city” by some residents, has moved forward despite broad opposition from residents within Atlanta and those in unincorporated areas near the planned site.
There is nothing loving or community centered about this, and other efforts, like the city’s rolling back promises to close its jail and instead lease beds to the county. Despite claims that it is acting for humanitarian reasons, the city is allowing county officials to shift the burden of their failures onto yet another warehouse for mostly Black bodies.
King’s commitment to anti-racism, anti-poverty and anti-militarism is seen through addressing long-standing issues involving policing and the over-incarceration of Black and brown people. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the systemic disinvestment and lack of resources and opportunities contributing to the decline in many communities.
But Atlanta is not unique in this paradox of claiming to be righteous and living in King’s image. Black leadership is celebrated for the seeming importance of their representation despite, at times, working against progress in Black communities.
And with their King lectures and collections of historical artifacts, elite institutions need to commit more resources directly to the communities that have often been misused and even displaced for the sake of institutional advancement and growth.
A commitment to bringing King’s beloved community to fruition requires a mindset shift to transform unjust systems. There cannot be maintenance and support for the status quo while simultaneously claiming to be King’s living legacy. Any effort to build a beloved community must commit to the values King stood for, not lip service. True freedom is found when we are all brought together to change all.
We cannot allow those who continue to harm our communities preach peace and patience while profiting off our collective misery. Honoring King and the beloved community demands more of each of us and our contributions to the greater good.
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