Carry Your Own Torch

The Martin Luther King Jr. that I know is not real. He is a monument—a perfect, polished, marble edifice set high above the ground while the echo of a flawless gospel choir reverberates at his feet.

He is a symbol and a herald for all those who struggle silently; he is a voice in the wilderness. When people list the great figures of all time you can be sure that many will say Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus in the same hurried breath.

I am not saying that I agree or disagree with it. I am just saying that this is what I know; this is how I see the man, and possibly how others see him as well.

MLK article 1

So naturally, as all these grand thoughts were swirling around in my head, I had my doubts about MLK Service Day.

The day Georgetown chooses to recognize the works of this historic great, the turnout is only halfway decent. Whether it was the cold weather, or the fact that it was a Saturday morning in the second semester, the campus just couldn’t seem to rally like they did a few months ago for Community Service Day.

As I walked up the steps to the Hariri Building on my way to sign in, I had flashbacks to last August, at Community Service Day, when Red Square buzzed with overenthusiastic freshman fervor and upperclassmen still on a summer high.

In comparison to that memory, the energy of MLK Service Day initially seemed to me like lukewarm leftovers. People walked in one by one and chatted quietly, either downing bagels in order to lift themselves out of unshakable sleep or nibbling politely, because well—it was a nice thought to provide food.

MLK article service

For the man that has done so much for this country, this was all we could muster?

It was like a dark-humored dream. On Martin Luther King Service Day, I was heading off to a school cafeteria in Fairfax Village to write letters . . . like some twelve-year-old Girl Scout.

Shameful to say those words, isn’t it?

But what else can you think when you are writing thank you letters to the Non-violent Peace force with highlighters and construction paper?

In my mind, there was nothing poignant or prophetic about what I was doing. Where were the fireworks? Where was that irrevocable tug at my heart, telling me that I am changing my community for the better?

And there lies the source of problem and the answer to my questions.  Subconsciously, I have taken one glamorous image, in one perfect moment and inflated it to stand for the entire civil rights movement. I remember MLK the legacy and forget that he was just Martin—just part of a movement.

King Serving Chicken to Sons

I remember the March on Washington and the mass boycotts, but who are those individuals, those civilian lives that rallied behind Martin Luther King Jr. to make him what he is?

Not every day was like that glorious moment on the National Mall, where all you could hear was freedom ringing in your ears and all you could see was the hope of a better tomorrow. No—prior to that day and following it were times of frustration, of waiting, of tedious acts, and of disappointment.

In hindsight, my experience last Saturday was more relevant and representative of the life MLK led, than if there were five thousand people there—all holding candles and singing hymns as we ladled out soup in bowls for the hungry.

No, we started at the grassroots—just a bunch of college kids, high-school students, and some adults just going into the community, not intending to change history, but at least doing something.

MLK article serving

It is probably the best homage I could have paid to MLK. No glamour. No crowds. No heart-wrenching speeches. I went out on a cold day to serve.

I stripped down the monument to its core: a man with a blessing, potential, and a heart to serve.

-Jada Bullen, Slant Writer


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