We have been content to define the public life of Martin Luther King largely on the strength of a single speech. We do so at the risk of transforming King -- whom A. Phillip Randolph introduced in 1963 as the "moral leader of our nation" -- into a passive, nonabrasive hero who is suitable for framing but not much else.
Part of the challenge that King presents is that his legacy is multidimensional -- a major aspect of that legacy is the "beloved community."
Speaking in 1957, King stated:
"The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness."
The "beloved community" is part of the theme at the second annual Martin Luther King Community Breakfast to be held in Berkeley on Jan. 21. "The city of Berkeley has officially recognized Dr. King's contribution to American life and the world," says the Rev. Leslie R. White, pastor of St. Paul AME and one of the event's founders.
Focused on the beloved community, White adds, "This is a communitywide event based on touching all parts of the community."
The committee has partnered with Martin Luther King Middle School for an art, poetry and essay contest using the theme "Taking a Stand." The committee also acknowledges those who have participated in the civil rights movement, as well as those whose current work embodies the King legacy.
The origins of the event began with White, Berkeley police Chief Michael Meehan and others seeking an event that could bring various aspect of the community together.
The result is a community event supported by the mayor's office, City Council members, police and fire departments, Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, the University of California, local churches and other community groups.
The breakfast committee was intentional about selecting its time so as not to conflict with other events throughout the day that have committed to a King celebration being a "day on" rather than a day off from work or school.
For those worried that the breakfast coincides with the presidential inauguration ceremonies -- fear not. The celebration will include the live streaming of President Barack Obama taking the oath office and delivering the inaugural address.
Berkeley's Martin Luther King breakfast is an ongoing attempt to maintain the King legacy. It is to acknowledge past, present and future leaders, who are disciples of that legacy.
But as a society we've worked hard to make King acceptable to the masses. There has been a systematic whitewashing of his radical nature. Even his most famous speech was given a new name as "I have a dream" has proved to be the preferable choice over the original title "A canceled check."
We forget that King's commitment to the beloved community extended to Vietnamese children much to the chagrin of President Lyndon Johnson. Little wonder that King's relevance is confined largely to the third Monday in January.
If we fail to authentically accept the King legacy we are left only with the sobering poem of Carl Wendell Hines Jr. to comfort us during annual commemorations:
"Now that he is safely dead,
Let us praise him,
Build monuments to his glory,
Sing hosannas to his name.
Dead men make such convenient heroes:
They cannot rise to challenge the images
We would fashion from their lives.
And besides, it is easier to build monuments
Than to make a better world.
So, now that he is safely dead
We, with eased consciences will teach our children
That he was a great man ...
That the cause for which he lived ... is still a cause.
And the dream for which he died ... is still a dream.
A dead man's dream ..."
The community breakfast will be held Jan. 21 at the Doubletree Hotel, Berkeley Marina, from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. For more information, go to www.berkeleymlkjrday.com.
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.