Bankole: 50 years after King, what we owe each other
On April 4, 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he was planning to join a strike by sanitation workers the next day. But the life of America’s prophet for racial equality was cut short by an assassin’s bullet, sending the civil rights movement he led into a tailspin and scrambling for a leader it could rally around.
Since his death, April 4 has become an important date in the annals of this nation’s history and in the protracted quest for racial and economic justice.
On Wednesday, the world will mark the 50th anniversary of King’s death, looking back at what has been achieved and what hasn’t been done since King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., to petition the federal government to make real the promises of democracy for blacks.
Much of the remembrances this week will focus on raining down indictments against the government on the myriad issues it’s falling short on, calling out politicians who have fed their constituents with the stale meat of racism and demanding an end to police brutality.
But we would be remiss if we fail to use this anniversary to also look inward and examine what we as blacks are not doing to advance our communities and make life better.
King’s legacy requires us to demand positive change and advocate for the kinds of inclusive policies that would alter the conditions in many urban cities today that have been taken over by crime and poverty.
Detroit, where King made several stops during his pilgrimage for equality, is a glaring example of the need to push for reforms that would improve the quality of life of many of its underserved residents.
To do so, leaders must accept the fact that the city is a modern-day example of “The Other America,” which King talked about in a 1967 speech at Stanford University. In that speech he underscored the urgency to deal with the decades of inequality and poverty that have become all too pervasive.
Detroit is still dealing with the challenges of inequality King warned about five decades ago. Recent reports about the economic health of the city have shown that many residents are living on the edge, just like the garbage workers King went to support in Memphis.
The public schools system remains a work in progress, even with a new elected board and a superintendent, who has vowed to take the district in a different direction that would yield results for academic growth.
Crime is still a major quality of life issue as the streets of Detroit continue to be killing fields almost every other day. Sometimes you don’t even need an FBI violent crime report to remind you of how grave the situation is and how your life could be in serious danger, depending on what side of town you are.
All of these issues will remain unresolved if our civic leaders remain silent instead of speaking out. The problems will not be addressed if some in the civic leadership in this town appear to be more interested in being insiders and mayoral appointees at city hall, instead of agitators who are willing to confront the issues and hold political leadership accountable.
Since King’s death we are still grappling 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.
If this anniversary means anything for us in Detroit, it is an opportunity to reflect on the need to move beyond words and into serious action. It is a wake-up call for our leaders, especially those who draw their legitimacy from King’s work to finally step up and do something instead of complaining.
Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.