Did you know that Martin Luther King and the father of President Obama share a connection?
Among the admirers of Martin Luther King was Kenyan scholar Professor Ali Mazrui, a holder of the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities and the director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University in New York. In the early 1960s, he was a graduate student at Columbia University staying at International House, a residence for specially selected international graduate students of several New York City institutions of higher learning.
One night, a small number of students from I-House, as it’s called, were invited to a dinner that was to be addressed by the civil rights leader. Mazrui says later that evening, he talked with King about Kenya – especially its early days of independence, and Tom Mboya, an influential labor leader and government minister. In 1959, Mboya helped 81 Kenyan students go to the United States for university study. Among them was the father of President Barack Obama.
“[King] knew quite a bit about Kenya,” said Mazrui. “We discussed its march towards independence. He knew of Mboya, the second most famous Kenyan at the time, and they knew each other very well. In retrospect, it was very sad that both were assassinated. That was a fate they shared, eventually.”
Martin Luther King stood up for the poor... but why does our media ignore this part of his life?
In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: the Poor People's Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble "a multiracial army of the poor" that would descend on Washington — engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be — until Congress enacted a poor people's bill of rights. Several news agencies warned of an "insurrection."
Almost all of Martin Luther King speeches were filmed or taped. But they're not shown today on TV.
It's because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years.
In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter.
But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation's fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without "human rights" — including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.
Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for "radical changes in the structure of our society" to redistribute wealth and power.
"True compassion," King declared, "is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
So how do we balance the legacy of Martin Luther King from its lack of transparency in today's society?
1. Martin Luther King should never be adorned on any person's invitation to party. The holiday is commemorated as a national day of service.
"If you've used MLK to promote your party, you damn well better make a donation to his foundation, play excerpts from one of his speeches, do something at that party to commemorate the man."
2. Memphis officials on Thursday, January 12, 2012 finally approved naming a city street after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., nearly 44 years after the civil rights leader was killed in the city. This measure has been long overdue, and serves as a sobering reminder that change is a principal that we must continue to challenge.
"In 2011, when America releases a movie about the racist J. Edgar Hoover, which becomes fully financed and distibuted in movie theaters around the US, it bears to question our country's moral fiber in consideration that Martin Luther King has not been commemorated in not one single movie theater."
3. America's pasttime should have done something to commemorate Martin Luther King on his birthday. The National Football League missed a golden opportunity yesterday by not acknowledging his birthday on gameday; but the NBA has not forgotten.
Four years before the government recognized this day as a national holiday, the NBA was honoring the memory of Dr. King. Commissioner David Stern has been a member of the King Federal Holiday Commission, and the league has closed its offices since 1987 to observe the day.
NBA teams have long taken part in the tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. In the past, teams have made donations to the King Center, produced television tributes, as well as contributed scholarship money to children across the county. Let your children take advantage of this learning experience.
4. King's economic bill of rights called for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America's cities. He saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its "hostility to the poor" — appropriating "military funds with alacrity and generosity," but providing "poverty funds with miserliness."
How familiar does that sounds today?
The national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, but the rate for Hispanics is 11 percent. For African-Americans, it's 16 percent. The Senate voted Obama's jobs bill down last week, but many speakers at the rally said they support both his bill and his re-election. Our efforts in helping the human condition cannot be a "symbolic" show of support, but must be aligned with the efforts of those that have fought long before us.
5. Given the Martin luther King monument’s significance as a place for enabling the ‘teachable moment,’ it’s also important to share with humility and humbleness from deep inside.
“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice, say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” - Martin Luther King Jr.
"Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it." ~Martin Luther King Jr.