Celebrating Dr. King’s birthday in 2012 By Grace Lee Boggs

This week’s LFC

Celebrating Dr. King’s birthday in 2012

By Grace Lee Boggs

Jan. 7-14, 2012

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Born on January 15, 1929, he was only 39 years old.

 To honor King’ life Detroit Congressman John Conyers and Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke promptly introduced a bill in Congress to make his birthday a national holiday. In 1981 Stevie Wonder popularized the campaign with his “Happy Birthday” song, and in1983 President Reagan signed a bill, proposed by Representative Katie Hall of Indiana, creating a federal holiday to honor King.

It was an important victory. But like most victories, it presented us with a new and more challenging question. How do we celebrate King’s birthday in a way that makes his life meaningful to future generations? How do we keep him from being coopted, canonized, or commercialized as Jesus Christ (Christmas and Black Friday) and George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (Presidents weekend) have been?

The King holiday was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. Since then I’ve tried to come up with answers.

In 2002, I was in a “Rehearsal for the Future” workshop led by my good friend UM Professor Bunyan Bryant who challenged us each to write a 21st century story about the King holiday. Inspired by the way Detroit Summer youth were rebuilding, redefining and respiriting Detroit from the ground up, I wrote “Detroit 2032,” a fable about how Detroit youth mobilized themselves to clear the streets after a huge blizzard so that people could get to a MLK celebration at Cobo Hall.

In 2003 as the keynote speaker at the UM celebration, I emphasized that “We must be the change.” Both Gandhi and MLK, I said, had recognized the need to Transform both ourselves and our institutions. That two-sided transformation is the essence of an American Revolution.

Four years later I keynoted the MLK holiday celebration at Eastern Michigan University (whose students are mainly from Michigan cities like Detroit). I said that we need to “Recapture MLK’s Radical Revolutionary Spirit and Create Cities and Communities of Hope.”

It was what we were struggling to do in Detroit.

Through these experiences I’ve learned that History is not mainly about the past. It is, as historian E.H.Carr has helped us understand, a dialogue between the past and the present.

In other words, one way to celebrate dead heroes is by examining them in the light of our present problems and deciding what they can or cannot contribute to the solution of these problems and therefore what we have to contribute based upon where we are now on the clock of the world.

That is how we plan to celebrate MLK’s birthday this year.

On Saturday, January 14,from 2-5 p.m. at the Church of the Messiah on Detroit’s east side, in a city which is becoming increasingly dangerous because people can’t find jobs, we will celebrate Dr, King’s birthday by explaining and demonstrating how HiTech is making it necessary and possible for us to Re-Imagine Work.

Frithjof Bergman will explain, and local activists will demonstrate that although HiTech has eliminated millions of Jobs, it also now makes it possible for small groups in local communities to produce their own necessities (housing, clothing and transportation) just as it has made it possible for writers and artists to produce and distribute their own books, films,etc

So there is useful Work for everyone!!!! …..we celebrated Dr, King’s birthday by explaining and demonstrating how HiTech is making it necessary and possible for us to Re-Imagine Work.


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