by Dr. Floyd Cobb
Note: Dr. Floyd Cobb wrote this post in 2020. We are re-publishing it this year, as the ideas remain relevant in 2021.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the holiday celebrating the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where Americans far and wide, take a moment to celebrate the monumental impact of an incredible figure in this nation’s march toward equality.
During this past weekend, in an effort to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, attention shifted to speech at the march on Washington, as it usually does, which led to many asking the ubiquitous question of have we achieved Martin Luther King’s dream?
This is a question whose follow-ups will surely focus on whether or not we’ve reached a point where people are “…judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…”
Now, I must admit that while I look forward to this holiday every year and the attention it draws to a man whose importance only increases each passing year, that I have grown weary by the annual debate.
In its yearly presentation, this debate is one that attempts to reduce the body of work of one of the greatest human beings this country has ever known to one line, in one speech given on a hot summer August day in 1963.
When we turned on news shows this past weekend, many were filled with commentators who offered arguments that attempt to either confirm or contradict our attainment of that dream and what he meant by it, which in turn will lead to educators on Tuesday asking similar questions of their students, on how far we’ve come or how much further we still need to go.
And while this question is routinely presented as essential, through a casual glance of Dr. King’s writings and speeches beyond this most famous one, it’s clear that the dream he envisioned was not simply about a time when “..little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers...” but was firmly rooted in a philosophy he referred to as the Beloved Community.
Dr. King’s vision of a Beloved Community simply stated was one where all people were capable of treating one another as if they belonged. This community becomes possible when people see one another for their individual humanity while recognizing their inherent dignity relying upon as the King Center states as the “all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.”
King argued that the attainment of this Beloved Community was only possible through the extension of love. However, the type of love that King described is needed to be extended to create a Beloved Community and was a far more radical version than what we commonly understand in our world today. He explains:
one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love….
…What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love….
With this said, on the 35th anniversary of the first holiday celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King jr. the question I would encourage you to reflect on instead of the typical question about the “dream” is: are we closer to achieving King’s ideal of a Beloved Community?
And if the answer that question is no, then what are you doing about it?
My recommendation is to extend more love.
Floyd holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and is the author of the book, Leading While Black (2017) and co-author of the book, Interrogating Whiteness Relinquishing Power. He has also co-authored the article Meritocracy or complexity: problematizing racial disparities in mathematics assessment within the context of curricular structures, practices, and discourse (2015) and Navigating the Space between: Obama and the Postracial Myth (2013).