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  • Helanius J. Wilkins

Dreaming & Actively Doing: A Post-MLK Day Reflection

“We must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

A few days prior to Martin Luther King Jr. Day I participated in a leadership retreat in Estes Park, CO. A component of the 3-day retreat centered a process that involved receiving, reviewing, and discussing outcomes from a leadership strengths assessment. My highest strengths revealed that I am a lover and a warrior. Translation: I am one who centers relationships and who is all about getting the job done while also being a protector.

I share this because in learning more about Dr. King – the person behind the public image – through conversations with writer, Black power advocate and community organizer John B. Smith, I sensed that he may have been a lover and a warrior too. It is not lost on me that Dr. King’s activism and approaches to working toward societal change could have manifested in any number of ways. He intentionally chose building relationships with community members, walking alongside them as he relentlessly connected civil rights and labor and poor people's movements.

My reflections on MLK Day are filled with tremendous gratitude and deep appreciation. Mile 18: One Year Later…A Conversation on the Labor & Love of Belonging, an event that centered John B. Smith and I in conversation, took place at Denver’s Redline Contemporary Arts Center. To be in conversation with Mr. Smith was amazing and a moment that will forever be a special part of my journey moving forward. Mr. Smith is the writer of The 400th [1619 - 2019]: From Slavery to Hip Hop, co-founder of the Invaders, and was among the men last to spend time with Dr. King – shy a couple of hours before he was assassinated. Our conversation was inspiring as we celebrated Dr. King while also shining a light on how his visions and practices are inspiring generations today and the ongoing work of social change. I have gained a new friend and mentor as I continue my work toward social change…and it’s a beautiful thing.

In times past I mentioned that hope and Martin Luther King Jr. are synonymous for me. I cannot think of him without a feeling of hope being invoked or recalling his many inspiring and poetic words and ways of actioning. I do believe that he was on to something when he said, “We must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.” Mile 18: One Year Later…A Conversation on the Labor & Love of Belonging was an opportunity to engage in conversation about belonging and dreaming of a different future but, even more, as a portal – a vessel – for connection, sparking ideas, and inspiring one another to keep leaning into work toward change –and becoming better ancestors. These themes are held in my current work The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging.

Since Martin Luther King Jr. Day much has happened and, once again, my heart aches and my body is assaulted by the horrific events that led to the killing of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols in Memphis, TN. The fact that the assailants are five Black male policemen adds a deeper cut and reignites the complicated history of policing – one with a beginning that was not about protecting citizens from crime but, rather, to serve as slave patrol and returning Black slaves to white masters. The need for a reform of a broken system seems more urgent than ever. Can there ever be individual agency to do the right thing when working within a corrupt system? Is there a world in which policing practices could center embodied humanity?

Rather than going down the rabbit hole of policing, the age of digital lynchings of Black men, and the heaviness I feel in my body with each new incident, I am actively choosing to hold onto hope because love still exists in me. In the words of the Dalai Lama, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

Last week’s participation in Inspired Teaching’ Speak Truth: Talking Across Dividing Lines, a youth-centered forum; attending a performance of Kyle Abraham and A.I.M.’s An Untitled Love; remembering Gesel Mason’s 1999 project Loving a Black Man; and diving into new content, A Twelve-Step Approach Exploring Cultural Bias, Racism, and Otherism by Rev. Seiho Mudo Morris, are all sources contributing to my continued dreaming and actively doing. I hold this post-MLK Day reflection as an opportunity to keep working toward getting the world we deserve – one that works for everyone. I keep loving deeply to unlearn fear while keeping hope alive.

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