Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No More Breakfasts for Martin Luther King, Jr.

I missed two events this past Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.   Correction: MLK, Jr. Day has now become  MLK, Jr.Weekend (with an unofficial capital “W”).  This is to accommodate the 100 zillion events held to honor him that won’t all fit on one day.  I was invited to three breakfasts, one dinner, one church event, and a book store program (in retrospect, the church and book store events would have been the best choices because they are both led by African Americans).  After attending four events in three days, I made a pronouncement to myself:

No more MLK, Jr. breakfasts, dinners, or other meal-based events.  I’m done.

Consider the tons of eggs consumed in honor of Dr. King.  Better yet, consider the bacon, sausage and greasy potatoes; the fatty, salty, over-prepared food served out of catering halls and hotel kitchens.  Mind you, we African Americans suffer disproportionately from diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.  But there we were _some 1200 mostly African Americans at the three meal-based King events I attended_ eating that stuff like it was the best food ever.
Yes, money was raised for scholarships.  But that was after the fine businesses providing the space and the food were paid. So let’s say, conservatively, that each establishment made $25 per meal (out of the $50-$150 ticket prices).  On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, in just three events, in just one region on Long Island, three crowds of mostly African American people gave $30,000 to hotels and catering halls.  I don’t know for sure, but it is safe to assume that we did not give $30,000 in scholarships.

That does not include the gasoline burned to get to these events (all purchased from the oil companies).  Or all the other ways we poured money into the economy that had little if any impact on creating wealth in the low and moderate income communities where most of us live.

Is this the dream that Dr. King spoke about?

Indeed, I was moved by the speeches, although I must admit, more was said about how bad things are than on solutions to the problems we face.  One speaker told a great story about his childhood encounter with Dr. King.  Another referred to Dr. King’s visit to Long Island a few weeks before his death.  I didn’t learn anything that would transform society, but I enjoyed hearing the speeches and homilies over my warmed over eggs.  I really did.

I was moved, as always, by the music, dance, and art of African Americans. We can never celebrate that enough.  I always love seeing leaders, movers, and shakers who love our communities.  That is very important.

In the spirit of Dr. King, however, I must propose a new way.  To honor Dr. King on his birthday let us commit ourselves in 2012 and beyond to a day of living out Dr. King’s beliefs.

As much as I enjoy fine hotels and catering halls, MLK’s birthday is not the day to enrich them (unless they are owned by African Americans).  Dr. King was assassinated during a fight for economic empowerment and transformation for oppressed sanitation workers.  What can we do one day per year to promote economic transformation for oppressed workers, for African American institutions, for organizations that promote economic justice, or for any persons or individuals that do something to move us closer to the ideals expressed in the Constitution of the United States of America?

We African Americans should host multi-cultural gatherings in every African American religious or cultural institution, museum, school, or college/university in the country.  As we gather on MLK, Jr. Day 2012, let each of us donate $100 to one of these institutions, because these institutions have struggled during this economic crisis.  Let each institution agree to take 50% of the total funds raised on that day and make a donation to the building of the African American Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC or the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Atlanta.  If one million people do that next year, we would pour $50 million into tens of thousands of African American institutions and $50 million into the legacy of Dr. King, or into the preservation of African American culture.  Now that’s economic transformation!

Prior to this new kind of MLK, Jr. celebration next year, let each participating institution invest in the technology to communicate with one another via audio and video.  Then on MLK, Jr. Day 2012, we can have a cyber-space King-a-thon!  All of  us together can celebrate the victory of this new wave of economic empowerment.  It won’t cost a lot of money to do this.  All you need is a fairly new computer and high-speed internet access.  There are probably three techno-savvy people in your organization who can tell you what to do.

OK, you can serve breakfast, lunch or dinner, too.  Just serve low-fat, highly nutritious food….

Who will join me to plan a new MLK, Jr. Day 2012?