On MLK Day 2019, Finding A Blueprint Remains Our Goal Opinion Editorial By Kevin C. Peterson


Less than a year before he was assassinated, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. paid a visit to Philadelphia for a massive rally that would be held at the newly constructed Spectrum — a sprawling professional sports arena that would house the 76ers and the Flyers for decades.

Before the rally, King visited the now closed Barrat Middle School, which was located in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods in the soutwest section of the city. The school would become the place where King delivered an extraordinary message about self-determination and self-image.

The rally was cluttered with celebrities, ranging from Harry Belefonte to Sammy Davis Jr., Areatha Franklin and Nippsy Russell. But it is long forgotten now. It barely registered in the next day press reports. But the speech King extemporaneouly offered at the Barrat School was precious and reminds us during this King holiday weekend of the power of his words and the auspicious vision he held for the generation of African Americans who would follow his leadership.

“What is life’s your blueprint” King asked the crowded auditorium of enthused grade schoolers. “Each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives. And the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.”

King couldn’t see the future, but the youth he spoke to that morning in the school’s auditorium would witness the city go up in flames as the word of his death spread in the spring of the next year. Despite his admonishments to the listening pupils at Barrat, many of the minds in his audience would ignite also into mental conflagrations about racism in the decades to come.

Yet, King’s message holds up to the test of time. At Barrat he spoke about the importance of self-respect, dignity and non-violence. King spoke about the salience of kindness in a society mired in a war in south east Asia and urged his listeners to engage in the struggle for human rights.

He also spoke to the importance of “somebodiness” and racial pride in a city which had dehumanized blacks and where blacks practiced hatred against other blacks. “Our society has placed a stigma on the Negros ’ color,” said King as he shifted toward a message on the toxicity of self-hatred. “And you know there are some Negoes who are ashamed of themselves. But don’t be ashamed of your color. Don’t be ashamed of your biological features. Somehow you must be able to say in your own lives and really believe it: ‘I am black but beautiful.’ ”

This week hundreds of speeches will be delivered across the nation extolling King’s “dream” and “mountaintop” experience. Speakers and audiences will revel in King’s recognition as a great public theologian whose words inspired a nation toward an ever growing belief in equality across all humanity.

Perhaps the message King delivered on that autumnal October morning at Barrat should be equally remembered for it greatness — its call to our conscience in addressing our individual moral shortcomings and our need as a nation to ever focus on improving our democratic society.

We all need the blue print that King was admonishing the youth at Barrat to construct — individually and collectively. In a nation still divided along the lines of race, tribe and creed we can all afford to talk about how a blue print still required for the great society. We still need to build upon the dream. Our mountaintop experience remains elusive.

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