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Is It Cliché to Use MLK?

MLK, Jr. Making a Peace Sign After Passing of the Civil Rights Bill 1964

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” 

It’s February. That means Black History month. It means the month of love. It’s the month which marked a year since the world began fighting the pandemic. It’s the month in which those of us in the US are just beginning to recover from a bloody and contentious transition of Presidential power.

Many of us who are trying to share some kind of healing message about compassion, gentleness, care, and resilience–especially one around social justice and equity—easily fall back to inspirational leaders who embody and symbolize those aspirations.

And who better to call forth than Martin Luther King, Jr.?  He’s the embodiment of brotherly love, forgiveness, persistence in the face of adversity, for maintaining hope in the darkness, etc. We can just quickly grab a picture from the web of him passionately gesturing, attach a quote about love, peace, and brotherhood, and we’re good to go!

Then we’re inspired for a moment by his wisdom and generosity of spirit.  But within minutes, if not seconds, we’ve moved on.  The message is still golden but we’ve come to expect it.  We’ve been there and done that.

And so we’re asking ourselves, is it cliché to use MLK?  Is invoking his name too predictable, too trite, too formulaic?  Is it too easy to fall back on him during black history month?  If we’re in the business of creativity, aren’t there millions of African-American artists, musicians, poets, writers, and cultural leaders who we could celebrate?

Without hesitation, we could say yes!  There are indeed so many people who we admire.  But we find ourselves drawn back to MLK.  Not just as a representative of the African-American community (not that that is not profoundly important) but because of the breadth and depth of his desire to bring another way of being to the world.  Not only did MLK, Jr. have a dream of racial solidarity, but his mission broadened to his growing belief that issues of race in the US were linked with peace, poverty, and political freedom throughout the world.

This got him into the far more politically dicey and far less popular arenas of challenging the US military industrial complex and suggesting that our armed interventions around the planet in the name of peace and democracy were hypocritical and insincere.  Some might say those arguments are relevant today.  Click here for a moving speech on the topic (or you can read it here.)

So, we choose MLK, Jr. again, despite how trite it might be, as the inspiration for this month and we leave you with another one of our favorite Martin quotes:

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

And finally, here is a useful handout on Positive Partnerships with concrete tools to help us learn more about each other, communicate better, and develop our capacity to forgive.

With love and appreciation, Rebecca and Gioia

Art Directive
Make a collage of about a person or people who have a message of love, solidarity, and resilience that inspires you.