Martin Luther King Jr always represented peace for me when I was little. Someone who could calm the heaviness in my heart with his words. I’ve always been an extremely emotional person. Pulling in the anger, sadness, or joy around me. Seeing images and hearing stories of civil rights and slavery were so hard on me growing up. My dad would touch on stories that my heart couldn’t reconcile. How were these things possible? My father lived through this? How did anyone live through this?
I couldn’t read books connected to these times. I missed out on the works of Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker in my youth. I couldn’t stand the heaviness of the past. But when I read about Martin he brought me peace. His voice, those words, they made it feel like it was all ok. He made it feel like we could overcome everything. As a child I really thought Martin had made it ok. That we were past it all. But as I grew up I started to realize that of course we weren’t.
Because they didn’t tell us all of the stories. They gave us an image of this brilliant man but they didn’t give us all of him. They didn’t show us his pain, his life, and what he had sacrificed. They wanted to give us the easiest story. Its so easy to make people into magical creatures. Like they are just created from fire and glitter. They don’t want you to know that these people exist in the same bodies we do, with their fear and doubts. They don’t want us to know they make mistakes and that they sacrificed what was best for themselves for the good of people. There is so much they don’t show us.
But you know what they do show us? People rioting in the streets, looting businesses. They showed us cops brutally assaulting people but they didn’t show us convictions. They showed us a “War on Drugs” but didn’t show us broken families and systematic racism.
Something happened to me. Something broke me. Trayvon. Not to say I didn’t cry or weep for all of the others. But all those sad stories that I couldn’t stand the weight of, I had them hanging in the air. Some kind of balancing act that Trayvon sent crashing down. His face haunts me. Everything he will never have haunts me. A pack of Skittles haunts me. The obvious profiling and racism of his killer and still no remorse, no conviction haunts me.
Since then I’ve been slowing soaking it in. All of the pain. All of those stories I didn’t want my dad to finish, I finally want to hear them. I want all of those books, all of that heaviness. I want all of the images. I won’t look away. I want the weight on my heart. I want it to push me down. Crush the beating. Please crush me. Because when you crush me that’s what makes me put my fist up. Because when I feel all the weight, all of it, I start to feel all of the joy. That shared past. That joy you find in community. That peace when someone else understands. That calm you feel right before the storm, because this is a storm.
Martin still brings me peace. But its the things they didn’t teach me about him, all of the flaws that make him human, that give me fight. Because don’t get me wrong, he is extraordinary and magical. But what makes extraordinary is to be so human, to feel all the pain and fight through it all and stand up to the challenge.