Answering MLK’s call in the era of Facebook activism


Some days I am so angry. Angry that the words don’t come out the way I want. Angry that there are kids in my own zip code that go to bed hungry. Angry that some person I barely know posted a completely off-the-mark article on Facebook. And some days I am so angry that this passion is not a fuel to my fire, but rather a gust of wind that extinguishes it all together.  Why bother? All of these things will always happen, regardless of what I do.

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I attended a remembrance ceremony held by Washington University called, “How Can We Reclaim the Wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. to Move Forward?” People wore formal attire as they listened to powerful voices echo through a beautifully ornate chapel.  It seemed like a beautiful way to remember the life of such an inspirational man.

But then, as I am sitting there in the beauty of this chapel, I remembered that the night before a black man was shot by a police officer on Grand and Gravois. Only a short drive from here. And in an instant, I’m angry. Why are we not talking about that? Is it too political? Wouldn’t sit well with the big donors?

I don’t have an answer to any of those questions. But, I do know that the keynote speaker, Jason Purnell, spoke about how King’s work inspired him throughout his own life and three of King’s truths that struck a chord for him. The first was that after MLK spent a long time in prayer, he felt the Lord say that he must stand up for justice and for truth, the Lord will be with you until the end. The second comes from King’s mountain top speech: “You’ve got some difficult days ahead of you now, but it doesn’t matter now because I’ve seen the mountaintop. I’ve seen the promise land. We may not get there tonight, but we will get to the promise land.” And lastly and probably not surprisingly, Dr. Purnell talked about the many times in MLK’s various letters and speeches when he talked about love.

Maybe history has made some of King’s messages more pleasing to the majority, and like all history, it is likely whitewashed in some way to keep from offending the powers that be. I do not deny any of these things. But I also think that Martin Luther King Jr. in 2015 would not call us to angry, patronizing Facebook advocacy.  I do not think he would “share” a condescending “list-icle” that politicizes race relations and ostracizes the uninformed. I think it is easy to think in our day and age that sharing heated posts on the Internet is enough action. I myself have thought from time to time, “Oh, I’m educating someone who doesn’t understand the issue.” But was I? The answer is probably not, if the article demonizes the other side and slights the uninvolved moderates. Who clicks on those links? Not people who are looking for understanding. It’s the people who already have opinions and are either ready to rally behind you or unfriend you immediately.

So, in remembrance of a truly inspiring man who calls us all to action in the fight for justice, resist the urge to be an angry advocate. Resist the urge to share the condescending news article on Facebook and start a face-to-face, respectful discussion instead. Get involved with an organization fighting for justice or stand in on a peaceful protest.  Because, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” and Facebook arguments are not the best way to raise our voices.

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