“I Have a Dream” or “Do What You Can!!”

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No disrespect, but I’m sick of that speech. It has been caricatured almost as much as King himself. It’s quoted by everyone from Tucker Carlson to Sean Hannity. Racists who danced on Kings grave have now turned him into Mr. Rogers in black-face. The only thing missing is that dumb sweater. His life and writings have been sanitized and air-brushed almost beyond recognition.

  • No mention of his sharp criticism of white racists, white moderates, and white Christians from the Birmingham jail.
  • No mention of his scathing attacks on the evils of capitalism.
  • No mention of his blistering rebuke of the Vietnam war and the military industrial complex.

No, just this painful distillation of a landmark speech into a kum-ba-ya  call for a time when “ little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little girls as sisters and brothers.” Point missed.

Frankly, I think that Kings most valuable counsel can be summed up in 4 important words he actually never spoke. Not the words “I Have A Dream” but “Do What You Can!” You probably missed the great “Do What You Can” speech. It wasn’t delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, it was spoken to Huey in the animated TV series the Boondocks in 2006.

The award winning black cartoon series was known for pushing buttons and boundaries.  I’m not endorsing it. But the satire could be as inciteful as it was profane. Through the magic of animation, Dr. King survived his 1968 assassination attempt and came out of a coma 32 years later. He awoke to a misunderstood legacy and a messed up people. He was so upset with his own people that he reverted to the notorious N-word.

“ It’s the ugliest word in the English language, but that’s what I see now”, King said. The cartoon King then went on to confront his own people in with a fury I believe he might display if he were alive today. With the same passion that he went after inactive and unproductive white folk from the Birmingham jail, he went after his own folk who were talking loud and doing nothing!

Let me substitute a less volatile word for the one he used in that fictional cartoon speech. Negroes.

  • “Negros are living contradictions.”
  • “Negros are full of unfulfilled ambitions.”
  • “Negros wax and wane.”
  • “Negros procrastinate until it’s time to worry.”
  • “Negros love to hear themselves talk.”
  • “Negros love to complain.”

He then turned to young Huey as he was leaving the stage and said, “Do what you can.”…..and then he muttered, “ I’m going to Canada!”

The language was offensive, but the message was clear. Do what you can! We have substituted arguing for action. Stop talking and do something.  Stop posting and do something. Stop complaining and do something. Talking and posting and complaining are all essential in changing our circumstances, but not if they are a substitute for practical action.

It’s a challenge to each of us on this King day. Let’s complain less and do more this year. And do what YOU can do, not what your neighbor or Facebook friend can do. Do what YOU can!

  • Read to first graders.
  • Pick up the trash on your block.
  • Baby-sit for a frustrated single mother.
  • Go to the pharmacy for a weathered senior.

Little things add up. Lawrence Bell once said, “ Show me a man who can’t bother to do little things, and I’ll show you a man who cannot be trusted to do big things.” It’s true. Let’s celebrate King by serving. Do what YOU can. That’s enough.

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