This won’t be any big surprise for those of you who are writers, but we struggle at Be the Love for our posts to be worthy. Whatever we seek to write about, it often feels like everything has already been said. What could we possibly add?

This couldn’t be any more true than at this time of year when we celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What is worth saying about this grand teacher that hasn’t already been said? And said. And said again.

Culturally we’ve told so many biographies of MLK and dug for his less favorable under bellies. We’ve mainstreamed him, and then radicalized him, and back again. We’ve picked apart his words posthumously looking for insight and comfort and for answers to his question “where do we go from here?” At times his anti-capitalism has been hidden from us. In recent years, mainstream America has claimed him, when they surely did not during his time on this earth.

This year, the movement is reclaiming MLK. This time of uprising we are in includes reinventing how we will be led by MLK’s legacy. Resurrecting the fullness of who he was. Resurging his radicalism to shut. it. down.

Bettmann/CORBISThese past several days it has felt like my contribution to #reclaimMLK is to allow myself to be overwhelmed by his complexity. I find myself needing to set down a desire that Dr. King were still here and all the ways I am holding him to a standard that he needed to be all things. This means reclaiming MLK by allowing him to be an integrated whole, rather than a disintegrated collection of parts of a person I sometimes want to follow.

These are some of the questions I will be asking myself about my reclaiming:

  • Do the quotes I choose to re-quote allow King to move into further complexity?
  • Does what I learn about King, or how we talk about him, allow for contradictions and continued mystery?
  • From whom am I expecting monolithic narratives of leadership? Where am I expecting my leaders to be Kings?

Seeing Selma was crucial in this process. Instead of seeing a figure that has sometimes been built up beyond belief, always at the pulpit, always the prophet, I saw Dr. King as simply a person who loved, and hurt, and was confused or unsure. I could see how lonely MLK was in his leadership.

Something about seeing Dr. King so plainly made me even more invested in no longer breaking him down or breaking him apart, but instead celebrating the fullness of his whole self. Rather than simply some holy parts, over-researched and over-analyzed, a whole King.


image credit: top – Marvin Koner/Corbis, right – Ed Wagner Jr.