This article was originally published on 1/15/2018.
I originally wrote this article in 2018 when I was focused on tying Dr. King’s legacy to what motivated me as a creator. But, in 2021, upon re-reading this article, all I can think about is this: Dr. King was better than the people who stormed the Capitol. He was better than the people who tried to disrupt a legal election. And Dr. King was better than the people who continue to divide this country. Honestly, I don’t how this country moves forward with such hatred and division running amuck. However, I will continue to have faith and believe that everyone can contribute to making this world a better place. Here’s my tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King.
Dr. King was better than the people who stormed the Capitol
So many of us Black creatives know the “I Have A Dream” speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, but we don’t always acknowledge that chasing our dreams is truly possible because of Dr. King and others who worked within the civil rights movement. To fight racism and civil rights has given creatives the audacity to believe in their own voices. I’ve heard African Americans like Oprah Winfrey, Viola Davis and even Kerry Washington mention that they stand on the shoulders of those who came before them. They weren’t simply referring to other talk show hosts, or other Black actors, or other Black entertainment figures. They mean they stand on the shoulders of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, and others such as these.
We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.
The civil rights movement was a movement toward freedom. Where would Black creatives be if we could not be free to chase our talents, our voices, and our own creative ideas? So every time you step on the set, you pull out your camera, you sit down to do your podcast, or you cast your film, remember these 5 gifts that Dr. King and the civil rights movement have given us.
1. Permission to be creative
The civil rights movement told the world we were not second class citizens. And so now as we journey forth in 2021, we have a right to hold a camera, a microphone, a lighting kit, a blowdryer, a slate AND be as good as anyone else who has done the job before us.
2. Strength in our stories
Dr. King’s story and other stories from the civil rights movement told us that we were strong, and we had experiences worth sharing with others. Whether we were sitting at lunch counters, desegregating college campuses, or rebuilding the churches that the racists kept burning down—our stories could not and would not be silenced. Today we must believe in our stories like never before.
3. The gift of relevance
Dr. King is famous for saying, “We shall overcome.” He is famous for saying, “Hate cannot drive out hate.” His quotes, too numerous to list them all, continue to be relevant today. The stories of the civil rights movement are still important in this moment and therefore the stories of African Americans, are still relevant. Watch a film, or a television program about a person who is overcoming a challenge and know African Americans have walked that path at one time or another. Creatives, we have every right to be here and we never go out of style.
Every time I watch a civil rights documentary and I see my people hosed down or being attacked by dogs, I look around and see that African Americans are still here. Every time I think about Emmit Till and the countless Black men who swung from tree branches, I look around and see that we are still here. We have survived. We continue to survive. And so, no lack of diversity or inclusion will stop our being and existing everywhere we want to be.
5. Speaking Truth To Power
Whether it be the Tuskegee experiments that showed disregard for Black life, whether it be the COINTEL-PRO files that detailed an utter disregard for human privacy, whether it be the countless murders of innocent black men, women, and children during the civil rights movement itself, Black people have spoken truth to power at risk of life and limb. So much of our work—the writing, directing, casting, crewing up—speaks truth to power. We do our work in a way that says, “We can do it, we can succeed, even when others are against us.”
Black people have spoken truth to power at risk of life and limb
Let’s salute Dr. Martin Luther King and the leaders of the civil rights movement for what they’ve given us and what their sacrifices continue to give us. We all stand on the shoulders of those who went before us and whose candles lit our pathways. Let us not forget but accept the gifts for what they are and continue to illuminate the journey for others who will come after us.