Imagine Martin Luther King as Human

I Have a Dream: Imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. As Weak

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.

Of all the civil rights leaders I’ve been fortunate to learn about, he is one of my favorites; his message about the power of Love and Forgiveness has always deeply touched me. To have been as courageous as he was to preach forgiveness and nonviolence against white people, especially in that period when racism was a brutal, physical, reality,  and still persist in his benevolence… I can’t even imagine it. And, sometimes, admittedly, I don’t.

I have a dream: Imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. as human.

Imagine Martin Luther King as Human

Rather than the prophetic force he’s been eulogized to be, imagine Martin Luther King Jr. as just another man walking down the street, or sitting at a bus stop looking down at his knees, pensive… wondering whether or not he was doing the right thing.

Imagine him in his broken moments — frustrated, angry, irritable, and unleaderly, and pray he had someone to love him when he was weak. Imagine him in solitude, right before he met with his council, willing himself to breathe… willing himself to be what he needed to be to inspire *others* to keep going. Then pray that he had someone to lean on.

When we think of our heroes, our idols, we often think about how much they touched *us*, how much they gave *us*. We rarely think about what they reaped in return–what it was like, for instance, to step off the podium after delivering one of the most riveting speeches ever given: I Have a Dream.

What nightmare did this dream, so powerful, so vast, and so specific, come from? When Dr. King was tired from the constant wrongs against his people, who helped raise him up again? Who heard his confessions, then? What would he have given to be seen, plainly, as Martin?

I believe that the beacon of light heroes often become in our eyes is strenuous, draining, and often enough, misleading–a double-edged sword. I believe our thirst for inspiration robs *heroes* of the right to be as imperfect as they are– as we all are, and consequently, the right to believe that we, too, are powerful. For instance, do we truly marvel at how great Martin Luther King Jr. was, or do we, as children right before bedtime, let our thoughts entertain the fantastical nature of heroes as permission to go back to sleep?

By making a *choice* to constantly describe the brave acts of everyday people as “divine”, aren’t we simply absolving ourselves of the responsibility to do what is right, in real time? In our eagerness to edify, we rob ourselves of the right to dream as heroes dreamed, to lead as prophets led… for how can any of us live up to such a hero as Martin Luther King? How can any of us be as glorious, shine a light as luminous as he did?

This is why we must imagine heroes as human, and we must imagine them, too, as weak. We must see ourselves in their light; walk the paths they walked, and imagine the human sacrifices they must have made, to discover that we, in our mundane capacities, make similar sacrifices every day.

So today, I honor the memory of a man I never knew, whose words–perhaps written from dark, lonely places I struggle with too–inspire me to choose Love as my Revolution. I celebrate the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., by imagining him as a man who wasn’t so tall, that I may follow in his footsteps, walk that Divine path of Love, which, I believe, is human after all.

  • @amurph11

    In honor of the #MLK ‘s birthday, two new perspectives of the man himself:

  • Mitch

    I think you’re absolutely right. We often tend to forget the
    human side of the people that inspire us. Just the other day when I was feeling
    quite down, and I have been down for God knows how long, I had a rather unusual
    thought: Was Coltrane ever discouraged? Was
    James Baldwin? (I even came up with an emotional pick-me-up: WWJD: What would
    James do?) I love John Coltrane and I often, shall I say, “envy” his almost
    larger-than-life capacity towards inner peace, not to mention the talent. His almost
    a saint to me (well to some people he literally is). But the point is, we often
    see the glitter and forget what actually took for these people to be who they
    are or who we perceive them to be: the zillion hours of hard work, the self-doubt,
    the lack of inspiration and recognition, the existential nothingness that not
    just great people but pretty much every single one of us go through, some more
    often than others. I cannot (or would not) imagine what it was like during Dr.
    King’s time to go out of the house every day with the very real threat of
    getting lynched. And here I am, completely crushed just because a few idiots
    for reasons only idiots like them understand thought it funny and amusing that I
    am black and call me names for it.

    I never knew that recognizing one’s vulnerability is in
    itself an act of strength. In my quest
    to overcome my insecurities, I have often failed to exercise my “right to be imperfect.” I have
    always been very critical of myself, maybe just as much as the people who judge
    me without really seeing me.

    Thanks Spectra.

    (i am sorry for the influx of words. i get really emotional when writing)

    • Spectra Speaks

      Recognizing and affirming the entire spectrum of our human emotions is *always* an act of strength in my eyes. I totally connected with what you said about being as self-critical as those who would judge you from afar. If only people understood just how self-reflective the best leaders are, perhaps they’d ease up on the decontextualized criticism (and praise). Anyway, thank you for your comment. I am sending you hugs and a virtual group hug. We all need this kind of support, imperfect and beautiful as we are :)

  • Jade

    I really love this perspective. This has completely changed my perspective on those that I have come to idolize from the past and present as well as change how I see my self and how I hope I will see myself in the future. Thank you.

  • Tigerpetals

    Yes. I think setting people above us makes it easy not to do whatever we think they’re so much better at. Even in little things – one of my first thoughts was how often I see comments like ‘you said it so well, now I don’t have to’ on blog posts and the discussion and sharing, at least with that person, is halted. I’ve been guilty of this, as well as not saying anything at all for the same reasons. It can keep me from working harder.

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