“We negotiate, we demonstrate, we resist.”
Over and over I say those words to myself. Over and over I immerse myself in the wisdom and discernment of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the many that surrounded him during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, including Ralph Abernathy, Amelia Bunton, James Bevel, Andrew Young and Diane Nash. When the movie Selma came out just about a year ago, I went to see it in the theater––three or four times. The movie shows the events surrounding the march from Selma to Montgomery––which was, in part, a demonstration to promote the urgency for voting rights for African Americans. Throughout the last year, I have felt great urgency as pertains to racial justice. Hence, I found myself in the theater again and again, repeating words from the movie as I contemplated my own work. I find Dr. King’s insight to be as practical as it is theological. On my nightstand is my copy of Strength to Love, a collection of Dr. King’s sermons. It reminds me that Dr. King was very strategic and thoughtful in how he lived his faith. When I visit the King Memorial in Washington DC, it helps me to reflect peacefully over racial justice woes. And, to be honest, I’m tempted to memorize in entirety his Letter from Birmingham Jail, which I printed out and wrote all over in the last year.
Now, some of you may think I’m starting to sound like a Dr. King fanatic––obsessed with him and his words! Actually, what I am keen about is what his words point me towards. Dr. King’s words lead me to think about myself, my faith, my activism, my own piety before the Lord. And, while I always need that, the last couple years I’ve needed it in a new way. I know I am not alone in saying: These days have been hard on us, beloved. My fellow community developers, my fellow activists, my fellow people of faith, we’ve had some trying times! Dr. King’s wisdom is in knowing that the gospel is a tenacious kind of love that refuses to disown the Imago Dei in any human. That’s the kind of love I need to sustain me through the turmoil that started and has sustained the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. It’s that kind of love that I need when telling truths that are hard to stomach, to people in and outside my race. It’s that kind of love that I need to declare that I am unapologetically black and a lover of diverse people.
How have you been steadfast about honestly grappling with the charge that Dr. King gave us? As I am persistent, I am convicted about my shortcomings; I am challenged to think more strategically; I am pressed to lean into the Holy Spirit; I am compelled to love Jesus and justice more and more. I’m convinced that his charge for us is not making his dream come true. You cannot understand Dr. King’s charge through soundbites and memes of his most famous quotes. You and I have to do the work of ruminating on his less palatable words. We must read the entire letter he wrote from that jail cell. I have to let myself sit in corners quietly alone and reflect on my own humanity. In what ways have you similarly pushed yourself to #reclaimMLK’s message from the oversimplified yet underserved quotes? I have had to ask myself how I inhibit the very freedom we fight for. As a result, I am a better leader, a better minister, a better freedom fighter.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to reflect intentionally together on Dr. King and the many who led with him. It is a privilege to prioritize reflection so that, together, we can help lead the current movements of justice. May our reflections always drive us to the cross as our stabilizer, our accountability, our conviction and our hope. And, may we negotiate for a better tomorrow, demonstrate the urgency of today and resist systems of injustice every day.
Zakiya Jackson has been involved in Christian Community Development for over 10 years, working in education, youth and leadership development and social entrepreneurship. Zakiya is a lover of words—and creatively uses them by entertaining her friends with stories, speaking or performing in front of a crowd or contemplatively writing poems and blogs. Nashville is her hometown but you can now find her all over the US, traveling for work and for visiting her incredible nieces, nephews and other family members.