MLK50: Activism 101

We don’t always have to go out of the country to do our road trip learning. There is so much to learn here in our own country. We had the privilege to use our 2018 spring break to obtain valuable lessons in American history, social studies, and Social Activism 101. We visited Memphis, TN for MLK50, a commemoration of life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

MLK50 Parade
Photo credit: Lens of Ansar
Participants gathered to reenact the iconic “I Am A Man” photo sponsored by the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery. April 4, 2018.
Photo credit: Lens of Ansar
The Russellsprouts and I with Ken Johnston, who walked from Selma, Alabama to participate in the MLK50 commemoration. “Preserving our civil rights is the most important value we can protect today.” – Ken Johnston. April 4, 2018.
Photo credit: Lens of Ansar

Moving forward. MLK50 participants marched from Beale Street to the MLK50 Commemorative Ceremony National Civil Rights Museum. Stage was set at the infamous balcony of the Lorraine Motel. April 4, 2018.
Photo credit: Lens of Ansar

The first lesson we received from one of our learning guides, Dr. Clifford Black, was that this was not a celebration. It’s disrespectful to celebrate the murder of such a powerful leader. Rather, this was a commemoration of his life’s work of social activism to help the economically disenfranchised. We started our commemoration by participating in one aspect of Dr. King’s work that made him famous: nonviolent, peaceful protest.

We were honored to take part in the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens’ Rolling Block Party. The mission of this group is “to create a safer, more equitable, unified Memphis”. The Rolling Block Party was just that: a block party! Instead of the usual “mean mugging” and solemn seriousness of protesting, this party was meant to uplift serious issues with inspiring music (i.e. Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”, one of my personal all-time favorite songs) and spreading powerful energy amongst each other with dancing in the streets. The target was FedEx to protest unfair wages.

Xavier was all in and ventured out of our car with one of our security guides and even struck up a conversation with one of the police officers who surprisingly didn’t disrupt the peaceful protest. Sebastian, on the other hand, was initially not for “this activism thing”. He expressed mature concern over the disruption of people’s jobs and livelihoods. He stated that by blocking their entrance to and from their work could potentially get them in trouble with their bosses, which could have seriously consequences effecting their ability to support their families. And he was scared when the cops showed up to the protest site. We found out the organizers strategically and thoughtfully planned out the protest so as not to interfere with workers; if any worker was affected by the blockade of the entry way, they would still get paid. His fear of the police also subsided when the cop whom Xavier befriended came over to our car to shake their hands and wish them both a great day ahead and overall Memphis visit. He initiated a handshake with the cop.

To be honest, I was scared, too. As a mother of two young, beautiful and bright sons, I’m afraid for their lives every single day. I have to give them “the talk” about how not to play with toy guns outside, and how boys that look like them are treated differently than some of their not-so-darkly skinned peers.  However, I will not allow them to be afraid of those that use people that look like them as targets. I will guide them to have a healthy respect for the police just as with any other human beings, while always being keenly aware of their motives and intentions. It’s a stress that I wish they didn’t have to endure, but one that is critical for their survival.

Nothing like being in the mix and experiencing social activism in real time. What a powerful lesson!

Photo credits: Lens of Ansar