I remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an important force agitating for equality and challenging the status quo. His message made many people uncomfortable. He protested against established rules, engaged in civil disobedience — broke the “law”, and disrespected the social fabric of the 1960’s.

After his assassination his reputation for lofty rhetoric and articulation of the finest ideals of the United States grew. As the nation began to acknowledge and distance itself from the most blatant forms of racism, Dr. King became increasingly viewed as an idealistic angel who had heralded the righteous changes. In my lifetime he has been transformed from an outsider who threatened into a joyful beacon showing the golden path forward.

Still, wishing people a “Happy” MLK Day feels to me as incongruent as shouting “Merry Good Friday.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Copyright: © 2008-2017 Wes Candela Photography LLC

In Dr. King’s life there were triumphs and moments of progress to savor. But, while he was still alive there was no “happy” completion of his mission and no universal holiday celebrating the progress of the Civil Rights movement.

In truth,  we are still fighting many of the battles that Dr. King himself engaged.

White discomfort with the concept of “institutional racism” and “white privilege” shows that we as a country really aren’t universally “happy” with the goal of Dr. King. Some of us spend more time frothing over the phrase “critical race theory” than we do contemplating how we can work together as a nation to realize our stated aims of “liberty and justice for all.”

I am not comfortable turning the memory of Rev. King a generic holiday. 2022 can start with Happy New Year, Happy Ground Hog Day, and Happy Valentines Day. But I am not ready for MLK Day to be another joyful excuse for a BBQ or an extra ski day in snowy January.

The struggle that the now-sainted Martin Luther King led is ongoing. MLK may be a icon of American values, but the BLM fight is not universally accepted throughout the country even though it is the moral successor to Dr. King.

Looking through the Internet for King Day holiday graphics you get pages of cheerful red, white, and blue banners. The stock photo sites used by corporations and marketing firms have tens of pages of holiday hoopla like the banner at the top of this post. Yet, the ones I checked had no photos of the man, the rallies, or his arrests. The establishment seems to have either forgotten or buried the reason for the Monday day off.

Of course, I will “celebrate” Martin Luther King Day. But, for me it will be a day of contemplation, a time to assess my actions, and a time to recommit myself to equality. I will  listen and try to be a genuine ally of BIPOC people in their quest for equality.

I hope that if enough of us reflect and act on the words of Dr. King that someday I will be able to wish you a “Happy Martin Luther King Day!”