“Heaven is the word for Canada”, said M.L.K in a 1967 lecture.
As we celebrate his birthday, does such a statement still hold true?
An assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968 fell Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, where he was planning to join a strike by sanitation workers the next day.
The anniversary of his death as well as his birthday, January 15, have become important dates in the annals of both American and Canadian history, as well as in the long drawn out struggle for racial and economic justice.
Montrealers will celebrate the 90th birthday by looking back at what has been achieved and what has not been done since his famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., when he petitioned the federal government to make real the promises of democracy for Blacks.
Much of the remembrances will center on the numerous issues left unattended, and calling for an end to police brutality. However, we would be further greatly remiss if we neglect to use this birthday to also look inward and meticulously examine what we as a Black community are not doing to advance our communities and make life generally better.
Let us ask ourselves as celebrants what has been truly done in the past years since we last celebrated life and legacy that would be a reflection of who Martin Luther King was and what he stood for. Was it merely ceremonial? Just for show? Something to do? What point was proven?
In his iconic speech at the Lincoln Memorial for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. King told the nation that “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment,” but what does that really mean to us?
In Canada and in Montreal, we have some real urgent issues that African Americans are dealing with, and these are issues that bear strange similarity to those that Dr. King fought, and ultimately gave his life for.
What about today’s Black communities? What have we been willing to fight, bleed or give our lives for in today’s environment?
Perhaps we need to stop deluding ourselves and come to grips with who we are as a people in this province and country.
Let us refract Dr. King’s life through the prism of his three main preoccupations—the “three major evils,” as he called them—of racism, poverty, and militarism.
For a start, this year 2019, the annual celebration at City Hall should be modified and/or simplified to include English narratives, thereby inviting inclusion, especially since Dr. King was an American. His legacy necessitates us to demand, and I reiterate demand, positive changes and advocate for the kinds of inclusive policies that would change the conditions for Blacks, especially in a province like Quebec.
Race in Canada continues to be an unresolved issue. While the deaths of young Black men by the hands of police have occasioned marches, rallies and demands for justice, daily discrimination and abuse against Blacks are unreported and unremarked at the local and national levels.
Dr. King made several stops during his pilgrimage for equality and the push for changes and reforms that would improve the quality of life for underserved residents, especially in cities like Detroit, rife with crime and poverty.
Are our community leaders aware of the economic health of the city, especially as it pertains to Blacks? How many people today in Montreal are living on the fiscal edge, just like the sanitation workers in Memphis that Martin Luther went to support?
What about education and the public school systems? Is that still a work in progress? As a retired educator, I am aware of the struggle to educate children from impoverished areas, and the overwhelming number of factors that hinders a child’s education that is outside the scope of teachers.
It is wishful bordering on asinine thinking that social conditions independent of schooling have no bearing on a child’s trajectory. Dr. King frequently asserted that education is one of the cornerstones for economic advancement.
So as we celebrate another M.L.K birthday, what can we really and honestly say? The Dream may be alive, but has it yet been realized? Let the leaders, the people address and clearly identify the areas of progress? If not, the birthday celebration becomes yet another display of going through the motion with the participants clearly missing the notion.
Since M.L.K’s death so many years ago it is blatantly obvious that we as a people and community continue to grapple with the same set of issues that drove him to make the ultimate sacrifice: giving his life to redeem a nation from the shackles of racism, hatred and inequality.
Now more than ever, the changing of the political panorama, especially in Montreal, calls for a revised game plan in which the participants and stakeholders must be clear-eyed and pragmatic if The Dream is to reach futurity.
Also needed are agitators who are ready and willing to confront the issues and hold political leadership accountable, and not appear to be more interested in being insiders at City Hall.
Incidentally, a city still awaits the naming of a place after the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
So let this year’s birthday celebration serve as a wake-up call for all leaders, especially those who draw their legitimacy from King’s work, to finally step up and do something instead of just enjoying the spotlight.
Happy birthday Dr. King.
It is my fervent desire that by the 100th anniversary of the articulation of your dream, Blacks, especially in Montreal, will have more positive accomplishments to show for the struggle.
Although society as a whole has become more accepting of individual differences, we still have a long road ahead of us if we truly wish to make your dream a reality and not just a wait and see.
Aleuta continua—The struggle continues.