Attending the parade on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Atlanta this year was the first time I have ever positively engaged in the holiday.
Back home in South Central Los Angeles (sad to say) MLK Day is mostly a “hood day” for all the local gangs to get together, come out and show how tough they are. For awhile, that was me too.
I would dress up in my affiliated attire and go to the parade just to gangbang with all my homies. That was my sole purpose for attending the event; not to honor Dr King but to get into mischief. I didn’t care about the police surveying me, the many families around me, and I certainly didn’t care what any stranger thought or had to say. All I wanted was gang activity.
Our territory was already marked so everyone knew to refrain from entering. If an “enemy” or a member from a rival gang was ignorant or brave enough to walk in our area then we dealt with them accordingly with no hesitation.
But that happened rarely because we were notoriously feared. And whenever we wanted to spice up the event we would start some trouble by leaving our territory to intrude on others’. Many times we would even beat up innocent people for no reason at all.
Now when I see my old peers broadcasting their terrorist behaviors at the MLK parade on social media I finally understand how stupid I was.
But it wasn’t stupid to me then because that was my life. That was all I knew. It was right for me because if I didn’t behave that way I would have been seen as a punk or a lame.
I was blind to the fact that everything I was doing was negative, harmful and exactly the opposite of what Dr. King had peacefully fought so hard for.
This MLK Day was the opposite: I was of service to myself and the community. Wearing my Morehouse paraphernalia, I visited the King Center where his museum, memorial site and birth home are located. This was where I was able to socially and intellectually interact with many different races. I could finally think about and fully digest what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for, equality and nonviolence.
Not that I didn’t already know that, but this experience was different, special.
The highlight of my day was my impact on others. While at the King Center I came across a big black poster sign that read “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” I carried it with me everywhere I went.
During that time many people came up to me asking if they could take a picture with me and the sign. I snapped pics with kids whose faces shone brighter than the sun.
One parent stopped me to take a pic with her son. We chatted for a few minutes, and after noticing my shirt she told me she wants her son to go to Morehouse when he gets older. I excitedly told him what he needed to do to get there, and his smile was all the confirmation I needed to solidify and pursue my purpose in life.
In retrospect, I used to be young and dumb. I didn’t think consciously about my actions and their consequences.
It took my attending MLK Day years later in another state for me to realize the significance of the holiday and the importance of using our influence in a positive way. You never know the effect you’ll have on others.
I am, as Dr. King would say, free at last.