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Beyond Surface Level

"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters."

-Frederick Douglass


On August 8, 1968 in Chicago, just months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a street was named after him for the first time anywhere. Today, there are more than 1000 streets named after Dr. King both here in the United States and around the world. In the wake of current conversations and actions happening across the country on the subject of renaming streets, replacing statues, and removing Confederate flags, I have been thinking about all the boulevards, drives, avenues and the like named after King and the legacy they hold. Jonathan Tilove says in his book, Along Martin Luther King: Travels on Black America’s Main Street, "For many whites, a street sign that says Martin Luther King tells them they are lost. For many blacks, a street sign that says Martin Luther King tells them they are found." Today, the words Black Lives Matter are painted on streets in Washington D.C., New York City, Seattle, San Francisco and Albany, NY among other places around the country. In 1968, the then mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, an enforcer of housing segregation, agreed to name a street after the late civil rights leader except that the street in question led and continues to this day, to the south side of Chicago which has historically been one of the black sections of the city. Under the surface and quite not under the surface while King was alive, Daley was resistant to any changes King wanted to help bring to Chicago. King even said after being hit in the head with a rock at a protest, "I have never seen — even in Mississippi and Alabama — mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I've seen here in Chicago." That says so much doesn't it?

Today, we see his name on schools, monuments, and street after street after street. We celebrate his birthday. We quote his "I have a dream" speech and while that level of visibility is important we still have so much to do. I say all this to say, that the next time, you are riding in your car and the words Black Lives Matter pass under your tires that it serves as a reminder of the work left to do. We have an opportunity to uplift the names of those who fought for equality during the stretch of their lives, to remember those taken too soon by racial violence and to commemorate movements fighting for social justice and an end to systemic racism and oppression. But please, remember that is not all. Please remember that Daley said one thing to King's face and something entirely different behind his back. Please note we no longer have time for surface-level politics. And when it comes to symbols, renaming, and holding up our history, may every symbol of black progress be accompanied with changes in policies that to this day continue to uphold segregationist ideology in housing, healthcare, education and law enforcement.

For example, even a realtor in Texas decided to stop using the word 'master' to describe bedrooms. That's cute but in the words of John Legend, "Real problem: realtors don't show black people all the properties they qualify for. Fake problem: calling the master bedroom the master bedroom. Fix the real problem, realtors." To be as clear as possible, what I'm saying is yes, rename and reclaim. Paint the streets. Take those statues down. But for the folks (and they do exist) who think it's enough to do an hour session of diversity training to say they did something or the folks who think we got what we wanted because we got a street name changed, sadly, those folks are still floating on the surface. Meanwhile the officers involved in the shooting and killing of Breonna Taylor still have not been charged.


Across this country, so much has transpired, a movement, a wave crashing down of seismic proportion in the name of change and an end to individual and institutional racism. Don't just ride the wave. This is a deep dive. It's going to require all the breath endurance you have. Some of us have been holding our breath for a long time.

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