I went to war last night… is exactly how I felt waking up last Tuesday morning following a day of service spent commemorating the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Day is a holiday that is very crucial to our culture as progressive American people that is too often overlooked. I’ve always had a sense of understanding about that and have desired to be a part of or attend an event, rally, or something that is actively celebrating his legacy and all that he and his peers accomplished in providing a gateway for many of the opportunities and blessings we have today. I found interest in the #MLKNOW event presented by organizations, Blackout for Human Rights and the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. I don’t want you to misconstrue my metaphor from the song “I” by Kendrick Lamar of how I felt, “I went to war last night,” following the event, as this wasn’t a violent rally… But attending #MLKNOW was enlightening and passionate experience that caused me to look at myself in a way in which I never had before; I felt as if I went to war with myself.
More than 2,000 people came out to Harlem’s Riverside church, where MLK, Jr himself delivered his famous 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” In addition to the attendees, 408,000 joined via livestream to embark on an auditory journey through history with performances featuring Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, Chris Rock, Empire star Jussie Smollett, Indie Arie, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Andre Holland, and more.
All those who were a part of the panel, recited a historical speech, or performed were people who’ve accepted our conditions as American people and their reality as a person of color and have fought, are still fighting, and inspiring others to fight to change what they don’t like. Activists such as Rahiel Tesfamariam (@RahielT), Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour), and Leon Ford, Jr. (@leonfordspeaks) forced me to look at myself and opened a door that allowed a floodgate of my raw emotions to flow in regards to simple human rights that are deprived from people based upon their geographical origins and the color of their skin.
A turning point in the event that evoked me to double-take my own thoughts and actions was during Ryan Coogler (founding Blackout Member and filmmaker) and Grammy-nominated artist and producer, J. Cole’s “Artist’s Conversation.” Following Anika Noni Rose’s phenomenal rendition of the rapper’s once-performed “Be Free,” Cole gave us a background of his mental state building up to the creation of the song. He explained that during the time he was working on his platinum album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, he was in complete artist mode refraining himself from interacting with television, social media, news — basically anything that wasn’t music. He had heard about Eric Garner, but didn’t really pay it too much mind and gave it a generic, “Man, that’s crazy,” reaction. Somewhere along the line, though, he came across the murder of Michael Brown and began to follow what was happening in society. Eventually, he brought himself to go back and watch the Eric Garner/NYPD video and he broke down and cried… Which is why “Be Free” was created. The song was a result of what he and Coogler described as a “forced numbness” — when you’re subconsciously preventing yourself from truly experiencing the emotions of these real situations because you know on some level how dark you can start to feel when you get to that place. But Cole’s experience is just one of many examples from the event of how you don’t have to fear diving into these dark places because something positive can come out of it. You just have to make it positive, and part of that, as these two men describe, is to ALWAYS look at cleansing yourself internally whilst still being aware of the conditions around you.
If you do not master inside first, outside is a waste of time… It’s truly a waste of time. ‘Cause what’s gonna happen when you change the system and you overthrow the system — you still broke, you’re broken inside!… You cannot fix the outside, without fixing the inside because it’s gonna lead to disaster, that’s what I think.
J. Cole (Rapper and Producer)
Part of my inward fight is a daily questioning of whether I’m ready or even capable of taking on all the subsequent responsibilities that come along with my dreams, goals, and aspirations. A lot of my questioning has to do with where I am in my life on a personal, professional, financial, and spiritual level. But, eye-openers like these help me realize that, all those things don’t matter. What matters most is what’s inside of you. The moment that a golden idea comes to you and you keep developing it mentally, is the moment you need in order to take real action.
Revolution starts with the transformation of the mind — all revolution begins internally…
Rahiel Tesfamariam (Activist and Speaker)
The influential and historical, Harry Belafonte made it a point to emphasize that it is very crucial for our generation to be inspired to pursue what we believe in. He explained how the heart of the Civil Rights Movement was ignited by teenagers and very young adults… Just like us.
There’s no doubt that we’re at an age where we feel lost and confused and we’re questioning our direction and abilities… But I personally love and appreciate this time of my life. I’m still young enough where I have the faith, drive, and ambition to believe in the seemingly impossible (that I’ve personally witness die off in people as they get older) but old enough that I have some wisdom, experience and tenacity to execute my goals properly.
Almost all of the men and women who made up the movement, that you so long have honored — the Civil Rights movement — were in truth and in fact, teenagers:
Dr. King… When I met Dr. King, he was 24.
I was 26, we were the elders…
Stokely Carmichael, 19;
Rap Brown, 20;
John Lewis, who is also in our Congress, 18;
One of the noblest in our ranks, Julian Bond, 19;
Diane Nash, 17 years old.. 17 years old and with child;
Jesse Jackson, 19…
When I sit in their [young people of today] midst, I am forced to make that roll call that I’ve just given you so that they understand that there were no great acts of divine intervention. There were no great warriors and mighty profile; we came from the ranks and file of the struggle…
Harry Belafonte (Civil Rights Activist, artist and actor)
#MLKNOW gifted me living proof; figures who have the same passion I do and have actually used that passion to become inspiring, influential young adults in their respective industries. These aren’t people reciting what was told to them or what they heard on television… These are people just like you and I who have been taught these things and experienced these things, been moved by them emotionally, expanded their knowledge on it systematically and personally, and are fighting to bring awareness and make change with the platforms that they’ve earned with their careers.
You can tell that not one of these creative people are advocating for the movements in which they believe in, in vein because of the passion and emotion they speak with… You could see it in Anika Noni Rose as she closes “Be Free” in tears and as Adepero Oduye is escorted off the stage because she’s so moved by Ida B. Wells’ “This Awful Slaughter” that she nearly passed out on stage. You can’t fake passion, emotion, and faith; it just comes with who you are. If you’re blessed to have it, don’t waste it… Channel it and use it to become a better person; use it to pursue your goals and turn your dreams into reality.
One of the panelist members, Pastor Michael McBride, said something that I believe is a major key (in my DJ Khaled voice) to us following our dreams and aspirations: “[Have] no permanent enemies, no permanent allies, only permanent entries.”
When we have these ideas that we think can really affect something larger, we’re going to need a hell of a lot of help and support to make that idea come to fruition. Dr. King, Jr and his peers are such crucial examples to this. He didn’t do everything on his own… It would have been impossible. Harry Belafonte was a close friend and confidant who helped him financially throughout the movement and brought the status and recognition this noble fight needed to really make an impact. Campaign for Black Male Achievement CEO, Shawn Dove, speaks on an incident when Dr. King, Jr. felt the weight of his moral duty too heavily and calls Mahalia Jackson because he needed a melody to ease the pressures of his journey.
We can’t be opposed to working with certain people because of predispositions we may have about them, because they may be exactly what we need to get by. We can’t be so dead-set on continuing to work with people because of familiarity or comfortability. We have to be open to people, their ideas, their passion, and potential contribution because you never know the promise someone possesses until you give them the opportunity to showcase it. When you limit yourself to who you’re willing to work with, you limit your opportunities. It’s all about good, positive, productive energy and allowing that into your life. Once you have that… The sky is the limit.
PS: If you missed the event or weren’t around a computer to watch it via live stream, check it out below along with a playlist that embodies the feels I got from the event… Get inspired… XOXO
Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it and live by the phrase, ‘sky’s the limit’