Celebrating Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Prince Of Peace

Today, as a nation, we celebrate what would have been Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 84th birthday, perhaps the most gratifying element of his legacy is that King Day is rapidly becoming a day across the nation when people commit themselves to the service of others.

From schools to corporations to municipalities, Americans will be using King’s birthday to recognize that each of us needs to further dedicate ourselves to helping others. Selfless service was not only a fundamental ingredient in King’s life, it is also an essential element in the Christian religion that King dedicated his life to as a Baptist preacher.

The edict to “love your neighbor as yourself” is one of the defining principles of Christianity — though many modern Christians have moved far away from that ideal.

King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ”

So it is only appropriate that doing for others has grown into a King Day tradition. Congress first made the connection in 1994 between the King holiday and the National Day of Service, calling on Americans to honor the man by doing something for others. The MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service—seen as a “day on, not a day off.” It is part of United We Serve, the president’s national “call to service” initiative.

“It calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems,” says the government website established for King Day. “The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’…The MLK Day of Service is a way to transform Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and teachings into community action that helps solve social problems. That service may meet a tangible need, or it may meet a need of the spirit. On this day, Americans of every age and background celebrate Dr. King through service projects that strengthen communities, empower individuals, bridge barriers, and create solutions.”

On the government site, mlkday.gov, users can enter a ZIP code to find a long list of projects nearby.

In the meantime, share with your children the poem featured here today. It was created by celebrated poet and activist Nikki Giovanni as part of the Smithsonian’s 2002 traveling exhibit, “In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,” the first major Smithsonian exhibition of visual arts dedicated to celebrating our American hero. “In the Spirit of Martin” included works by some of my favorite artists ever—Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Faith Ringold, Charles Alston and Gordon Parks, to name a few. But it was Nikki’s poem that touched me most.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King. Thank you for your strength, your intelligence, your courage, and especially your insistence that America live up to its promise to ALL its citizens. Your legacy endures—and you are missed.

“In the Spirit of Martin,” by Nikki Giovanni

This is a sacred poem…blood has been shed to consecrate it…
wash your hands…remove your shoes…bow your head
…I…I…I Have a Dream

That was a magical time…Hi Ho Silver Away…
Oh Cisco/Oh Pancho…Here I Come To Save The Day…
I want the World to see what they did to my boy…
No No No I’m not going to move…If we are Wrong…
then the Constitution of the United States is Wrong
…Montgomery…Birmingham…Selma…Four little Girls…
Constant Threats…Constant Harassment…Constant Fear…
SCLC…Ralph and Martin…Father Knows Best…
Leave It To Beaver…ED SULLIVAN…How Long…Not Long

But what…Mr. Thoreau said to Mr. Emerson…are you doing out?

This is a Letter from Birmingham City Jail…
This is a eulogy for Albany…This is a water hose for Anniston…
This is a Thank You to Diane Nash…
This is a flag for James Farmer…
This is a HowCanIMakeItWithoutYou to Ella Baker…
This is for the red clay of Georgia that yielded black men of courage…
black men of vision…black men of hope…
bent over cotton…or sweet potatoes…or pool tables and
baseball diamonds…playing for a chance to live free and
breathe easy and have enough money to take care of
the folks they love…This is Why We Can’t Wait

That swirling Mississippi wind…the Alabama pine…
that Tennessee dust defiling the clothes the women washed…
thosehotwinds…the lemonade couldn’t cool…
that let the women know…we too must overcome…
this is for Fannie Lou Hamer…Jo Ann Robinson…
Septima Clark…Daisy Bates…All the women who said
Baby Baby Baby I know you didn’t mean to lose your job…
I know you didn’t mean to hit me…
I know the Lord is going to make a way…
I know I’m Leaning On The Everlasting Arms

How much pressure…does the Earth exert on carbon…
to make a diamond…How long does the soil push against the flesh…
molding… molding…molding the moan that becomes a cry that
bursts forth crystalline…unbreakable…priceless…incomparable Martin…
I Made My Vow To The Lord That I Never Would Turn Back…
How much pressure do the sins of the world press
against the heart of a man who becomes the voice of his people…
He should have had a tattoo, you know…Freedom Now…
or something like that…should have braided his hair…
carried his pool cue in a mahogany case…
wafted that wonderful laugh over a plate of skillet fried chicken…
drop biscuits…dandelion greens on the side

This is a sacred poem…open your arms…turn your palms up…
feel the Spirit of Greatness…and be redeemed

RELATED POSTS:

1. Racism From An 8th Grader’s Perspective: A Generational Public Service Announcement
2. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Skip The Shopping And Get In Some Service To Others
3. Coretta Scott King’s Words On the Violence Of Poverty Still Ring True Today
4. MyBrownBaby Respect: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

[Editor’s note: a portion of this piece appeared on AtlantaBlackStar.com]

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

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