The Bridge: The King Dream–Forty Years Later

By Darryl James

More than forty years after evil men assassinated The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we celebrated another King Holiday Weekend in this nation.

Many celebrated, but most have no real reflection on the man and the legacy, nor on our own obligation to keep the dream alive and to make it come true.

Far too many Americans, and yes, that includes African Americans, are so focused on the wrong thing that we are more likely to see a nightmare come true than any dream.

For example, few of us have the testicular fortitude required to stand in the shoes of a man like Dr. King, yet gutless mouthy weaklings who sit in the comfort of the new century dare to cast aspersions on the man and the legacy.

I hear people talking about how King didn’t do much for us, but the reality is that we didn’t do much for a man who died for us. He fought for our right to go anywhere, not for the right to leave our own community and never look back. He got it started and many of us just left it alone.

On the other hand, far too many of us are holding on to nothing else but Dr. King’s memory, instead of creating our own dream to add to his. We live for a messiah and without an icon to hitch our dream to, we simply fall asleep.

And we fell deeply asleep right after the election of President Barack Obama, whom far too many expected to save the world, cure cancer and deliver Reparations to African descendants in America. All this without any action on our part–because we are still looking for a savior.

Without a savior to guide us and die for us, we are divided and confused and so we rally around things that sound good, but have little substance.

Take the effort to memorialize Dr. King in the nation’s capitol with a piece of rock. That effort is moving toward raising more than $100 million for a monument to The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m torn because on the one hand, there may be renewed interest in the struggle of the Sixties among our youth.  That is a good thing.

But on the other hand, there is still that gnawing voice within me that says “What about our most pressing and REAL causes?”

While Dr. King’s fraternity leads the charge to raise $100 million dollars, Morris Brown College struggles to exist and little Johnny from Compton, Chicago, Cleveland or Harlem can’t read because his school doesn’t have enough books.  Little Johnny can’t properly prepare for the colleges he can not afford and that may not admit him, because his school doesn’t have enough teachers who still care after their paychecks run out before the end of months filled with gang threats and violence in overcrowded, underfunded schools.

While money is being raised to create a physical memorial to one of this nation’s greatest men, young Black girls are opening their legs to disease and pregnancy and opening their veins to drugs and death in dark alleyways and in their parent’s living rooms.

While the national monument for our brother Dr. King is being pursued and making some of us feel that we are doing something worthwhile, the nation’s prisons are being filled with young Black men whose promise has evaporated.  The calls for their very few choices for uplift have been diminished by the strong call to succeed through sports, rap music with self-hating lyrics or drug dealing, while mean-spirited, ignorant people—Black and white—blame their conditions on them.

While the charge is being lead for a national monument to Dr. King, many of the civil rights he fought for are being eroded, and the stone will do nothing for the shameful voting rights violations made public by the 2000 presidential election and quickly made private after the election of President Obama.  Nor will it stop the attacks on Affirmative Action.

While national celebrities donate their time and money for a piece of stone in the nation’s capital, Blacks are still struggling, financially, for a piece of the rock in an economy that is in the toilet, flushing Blacks first and fastest out of downsizing companies.

While Dr. King’s legacy was being turned into symbolism, Blacks disproportionately placed their lives on the line in a series of wars with no truer purpose than oil, only to come home to a war on drugs in our communities.  The war in our communities is really a war on us, because the only casualties are Black men and women who never went to a cartel to import drugs, and who invented many things, but not the formula for crack cocaine.

There are those who say that the monument will give Dr. King his rightful place among other great men of this nation, and that the monument will remind us all that Dr. King’s dream is yet unfulfilled.

I believe the same things were said about making his birthday a national holiday.

While Dr. King’s birthday was being made a national holiday, the number of young Black men in prison was rising.

While the holiday was being adopted from state to state, the AIDS epidemic was running rampant through our communities, damaging more and more Blacks, while fingers point back and forth across the gender divide.

While national celebrities raised money and awareness for his birthday, police across the country were violating the rights of Blacks, setting the stage for nationally prominent crimes by police. Those crimes included the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles; the shooting of Timothy Thomas in Cincinnati; the broomstick sodomizing of Abner Luoima in New York, and the shooting, forty-one times, of Amadou D’iallo, also in New York.

While the nation began to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday in the same fashion as the day for presidents, many of us barbecued and relaxed, while losing more ground gained by his leadership.

As a Black man in America, and as a brother of Dr. King’s fraternity, I hold his memory near and dear to my heart.  I try to live my life walking in the path he and other brave men and women blazed for me with their very lives.

I find it embarrassing that more than forty years after his death, the best that we can do is to erect a monument in his memory, while the memory of his dream is waking us up to a nightmare of broken promises.  We are waking up in a cold sweat to that same non-negotiable promissory note written to the sons and daughters of slavery in America by a nation that has never looked at us as full human beings.

Dr. King led a fight in the streets of America, forcing her to face her crimes against us in front of the world.  He was followed by millions of humans in this nation and around the globe.  He inspired us all to dream of a better world and to claim the right to have it.

A monument can not do that.

Forty years after The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated for daring to dream of a better world and for fighting for our right to have it, Black people are uniting to raise money for something that may make us feel good, but will do little to further the dream of the man himself.

My point?

Simply this:  We don’t need a symbol, we need something real.

Dr. King had a dream.

It is up to us to make that dream come true, or at the very least, to dream our own dream.

Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.” Now, listen to Darryl live on, relaunching on Sundays from 6-8pm, PST. View previous installments of this column at Reach James at

4 Responses to “The Bridge: The King Dream–Forty Years Later”

  1. Wow, this is one of the most powerful, thought-provoking articles I’ve read in a long time.
    My sense is that Dr. King would prefer to use $100 million (or whatever is ultimately raised) to address the problems you so forcefully cited, reather than to create an address to remember him.
    There’s irony in the popular practice of celebrating Dr. King Day as a day of volunteering … taking personal action … to clean up neighborhoods, help neighbors, etc., and raising $100mil for, as you so aptly said it, “a rock”.

  2. Wow! Great Article, but I have one question: HOW??? With all the negative commentary Just tell me how do we accomplish the very last sentence of your article?? And if that can be answered, then why wasn’t the space used here to bring that point accross? Just an observation.

  3. Well said my brother.

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