Do You Say Happy Martin Luther King Day?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The young Dr. King Holiday is still taking shape as the nation determines how to celebrate the day dedicated to the commemoration of a man who fought for social justice and equality during one of the most oppressive eras, outside of slavery and as a result of slavery, in American history.  Some of us are still young enough to remember the conditions which Dr. King and many, many others fought to change.  For many this day is one of remembrances just how difficult things were and appreciation for how life has changed.  For others it is just another day off,  or a cliche about one man’s dream.  Still for some it is another opportunity to promote peace and justice as overriding principles in the treatment of their fellow humans.  There are so many ways to handle this day, it is easy to wonder how long it will be before it turns into a day of Dr. Martin Luther King Day White Sheet Sales, a notion not too far fetched when one thinks of the true meaning behind acknowledging the work and lives of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Jesus Christ with days.

Personally, I have been rather ambivalent about the celebration of the Dr. King Holiday.  I am not ambivalent about the day itself as a friend reminded me of my attendance at a March in support of Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday in January 1981.  No, I think the day itself is extremely important. It is how we celebrate the day that leaves me at odds with whether we will project the true meaning of this day when those who have lived through the period of legislated racial animus, oppression and hatred haved passed. When the collective memory becomes a video clip of protesters being punished with solid beams of hosed water and chased down by vicious attack dogs or a YouTube reminder of a few lines from an inspirational speech, will we then know what it is we are commemorating?  Do we know now?

Oddly enough, I found my feeling about what the holiday means early this morning from two sources both related to basketball.  The first was when I woke up this morning and tried to determine whether my back would stop hurting enough for me to get to the Y and play some early morning ball.  After eating a banana, celery and a little pasta for fuel, I popped a couple of Advil to loosen up my back.   If I relied on the Advil I would have stayed at home; instead I thought about how appreciative I was to get up in the morning and go to the Y, as I do every weekday, and go play basketball with an extremely diverse group of men of many ethnicities, races and ages.  Although, being in diverse environments was something to which I had been accustomed for decades, it is a situation, in stark contrast to growing up in a highly segregated city, which can easily be taken for granted.  What I had to be appreciative of was how much all of us benefited from being able to play and socialize with each other with little to no regard for racial differences.

One might say, well it’s just basketball, but then that one does nto understand what basketball means as a reflection of life, and how easily the game itself reveals character if you pay attention.  Beyond that for many of us who play, it is an opportunity ot form bonds with others who you may not in other circumstances.  And for recreational ballers, it is a way to stay mentally and physically fit while displacing some of the stress of life outside the court.  It is an absolute blessing that we are able as men to share and give this little part of ourselves to each other regardless of race and that has not always been the case.

The second thing that struck me this morning were the words of Brent Barry on Game Time on NBATV as he talked about what the Dr. King holiday meant to him and to the NBA.  Before he spoke, the show played a clip of the dignified Bill Russell as he talked about the day of commemoration and his first meeting with Dr. King right before the “I Have A Dream Speech.”  (The story of Bill Russell’s relationship with Red Auerbach is a perfect lesson in love and service for fellow men despite social taboos.  They bought fought hard for justice in their own ways, separately and together,  that I can’t understand how I grew up with the notion that the Celtics were synonymous with racism back in the day.) Before Brent both Dwayne Casey and Steve Smith talked about how blessed how the work of Dr. King  brought them opportunities that were previously denied African-Americans.  But Barry expanded the sentiment when he talked about King’s message being about how we treat each other no matter their race, sex, religion or creed.  Dr. King was not just of benefit to Blacks and according to Barry, the NBA works everyday, not just on the holiday, to perpetuate the message in its actions.

For me, a person who has benefited on many levels from the work of Dr. King and many others, including receiving academic scholarships named after Dr. King, how the holiday is celebrated should be merely a representation of how we lead our lives.  Every day we should be of service to others and make an effort to make the world a better place for someone else.  This day, a great holiday to start a new year with, is a day that promotes peace, justice, service and self-lessness.  Certainly, it can be a happy day or one in pursuit of happiness, but it is perhaps best seen as another day that we place the well-being of our fellows as our global and personal priorities.

May your Dr. Martin Luther King Day encourage you to touch someone else with love and peace today.