Through out all of my years of school there happened to be one person that was constantly talked about EVERY Black History Month. In elementary school we’d get some coloring worksheets with people who had black features on it,something we didn’t see to often, and we’d color them black. In Middle School, we would go over Black History facts or we would get a long list of African-American inventors, and we would write about one of them. In High School, we would talk about lesser known movements that also contributed to the progression of Blacks…BUT there was one person I KNEW was going to be on all of my worksheets, on the chalk board, in the hallways, in my reports(that I never did), and everywhere else. My whole Black life, the name that dominated Black History Month was Martin Luther King Jr.
A short portion of my life I had a deep hatred for all humanity. I did not discriminate. As a child it was specifically white women I hated. If you are curious as to why I disliked white women so much be sure to check out my TEDx talk out.(skip to 1:04)
As I got older, my hatred for White Women shifted places with my hatred for Black Men/Boys. Black males became my main focus of hatred. It was at an all time high during the year I began college. Truthfully, at that point in time I happened to have very little social skills as well interactions with people period because I hated everyone. My interactions with people were placed into 3 categories.
1. You are just as messed up in the head as me, so I can tell you how messed up I am and not get judged because your messed up is probably worse than my messed up.
2. I don’t know you, so when you come around, I’ll stare at you like your scum of the earth.
3. …DIE! (Hey, that’s how my mind was set up at the time.)
So at this point…I’m in college, little to no social skills, White Women are okay as long as they don’t say anything to trigger me, and I hate Black Men.
Yup…this is where it gets interesting.
The class I was taking was an English class, Essay and Research to be exact. The first day I was the only Black male in the classroom so I was very happy. The professor was a Jewish woman who happened to be very vocal and vulnerable. She told us how she was a teacher most of her life. One of her stories that really stuck out was about how one of the students she taught, mother came to the school and dragged her through the hallway. After she told us that, she went on to tell us that her husband was black. When she said that, I thought to myself “Damn…I hate your husband.” She continued to tell us about herself until class ended and said we would get started next class.
So it’s the day of the next class and I walk through the door, say hello to the teacher, and take my seat which had my back facing the board. I’m taking my notebook out of my book bag and a video begins playing. As soon as the video began I knew exactly who it was, it was MLK and his I Have a Dream speech. I didn’t turn around to look at the video projected on the screen. I was tired of his voice, his face, his dream and anything about MLK. It was shoved in my face that he was so amazing, but the environment I lived in didn’t resemble anything he talked about. If he really did anything to change things, I wouldn’t be the only black guy in the room, listening to his speech for the 3761039651038th time.
I pretended to write in my notebook so I wouldn’t have to look at the screen. After the speech was over, the professor told us how we should love his speech and asked us to write our own dream speeches. I began thinking to myself “I dream everybody would stop selling me MLK’s faulty ass dream.”
At this moment I said to myself, “Donte, let her know how you feel. How exactly can everyone keep telling you how great someone is that has not benefit your life at all? On my essay, I wrote exactly what she wanted me to. I wrote about the young black male struggle, how I was stereotyped on a day to day basis, and how nobody understands me. That essay sounded like I was the most victimized forgotten about abused black man you ever met. I also wrote on a separate piece of paper. On this paper I wrote about how Martin Luther King wasted his time and life. I knew when she read it, i’d get a response from her, which I did. After she had a chance to read it, she asked me if she could talk to me after class.
As class ended, I sat in my seat. She looked at me with such a confused bothered look, as if I did the most unforgivable thing a human could do. She grabbed my paper and held it up to her confused face. I’m thinking to myself “Just because your husband is Black and MLK is Black doesn’t mean I have to like them…I hate both of them.”
She asked me why I would say what I said about MLK. I said “He didn’t do anything for anybody, and now he’s dead.” This is when she gave me the “How could you” look, and I looked her in the face with the most emotionless face in return. She began running down the list of accolades he had and how he helped shift the nation and united us all with his speech. This is when I told her “Tell that to the the black man that killed the woman on my street and left her in the closet for 3 days. He might need you more than I do.”
She stared at me like this “O_O…”
I walked out the classroom while she was staring. I wasn’t going to further explain my feelings or elaborate my frustration with black males at the time. I was going to leave her as confused and lost as I was. After that conversation I stopped talking in her class all together all the way to the end. I knew how emotionally connected she was to MLK. Also, the fact she had a Black husband led me to believe she had a soft spot for black men. I hoped me not giving her closure on anything I said, as well not giving her a chance to connect with me, made her dislike black men all together.
In between waiting for the next semester of classes to start, a feeling came over me. I thought about my teacher (referencing to the white woman in my TEDx talk) and how we formed a great relationship and she taught me many things about myself AFTER my stage of hatred for her. I wondered if I missed out on another opportunity to have someone I could look up to for the rest of my life, but it was too late to find out.
A new semester starts, and one of the classes I decided to take was a speech class. Out the gate the teacher was very energetic and interactive. We happened to have a very diverse group of students in the class from our ages, ethnic background, and religious beliefs. Somehow, she was able to get us all comfortable enough to not care about any of that. There was even another black male in the classroom and I didn’t even care…I was shocked. All the things that would keep us at distance became second to our humanity. She managed to get us all to interact with one another with in one week. I’ve seen plenty of teachers have the hardest time relating to ALL the students at once. After she did it almost effortlessly, I recognized this woman wasn’t just giving us speech lessons, she was going to teach life lessons.
I thought this woman was amazing and I made the decision I wanted to be just like her. The ability to bring people together from all different walks of life was something that was unheard of. I never witnessed or fathomed anyone even attempting to do it and being successful at it. Seriously, I NEVER seen anyone do what she did. I began to study this woman and her tactics. I knew sooner or later I was going to use everything I was learning from her.
So one day in class, she asked us if we knew what the most important speech of the 20th century was.
I thought to myself “…She is not about to do this to me.”
She said “Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech.”
She had the nerve to say it with a smile on her face too.
I was ready to put her on my list of people to not talk to anymore, but it was very hard to do. I had a serious dilemma on my hands. This woman was one of the most amazing talented people I ever came across…but she seemed to be intrigued by MLK, the guy I hate with a burning passion. As I started thinking about ways to ignore the video it started playing, and I was sitting front and center so I couldn’t go anywhere. I took quick glances around the classroom to see that everyone else watching. As much as I didn’t want to, I started watching as well. While I’m watching the video, I realized something. I heard the speech over and over, but not once have I ever watched the I Have A Dream video.
While finally watching the video I’ve been ignoring most of my life, I saw something very familiar to me. With the quick glimpses of all the faces in the crowd, I saw people gathered together, listening to his message and taking in everything he was saying. For all of those different people to listen to that one person…made me think of my teacher. The diversity of the audience was so captivating to me because it was just like my classroom. For the first time after 20 plus years, I finally saw exactly who MLK was and what he was saying because of my teacher. Not because she taught me who he was, but because she actually showed me.
The irony of it all, the only person to ever make me pay attention to MLK and begin doing research on him, was the only person that never forced me to. I recognized my whole life I was never given the opportunity to digest his message because everyone told me what I needed to look for when it came to him. They created a distorted version of him by constantly regurgitating the same quotes that I heard all the time, parts of him that simply just didn’t speak to me personally.
So, with all of that being said, what I learned from my speech teacher was never let anyone tell you who your hero’s are, that’s something you do on your own. MLK seemed to be one of her’s, while she was one of mines. When her class was over I did more research on him because he was the closest thing to her. My respect for her is vicariously lived through learning more about MLK as I progress in life. I never disliked MLK, I disliked the people that told me about him. All of those people told me how I should feel and think about him but never gave me one chance to figure out who he was on my own. Honestly, a large portion of the people that claim to love MLK cant tell you much outside of the I Have A Dream speech. They love what he said, but have continuously failed to be examples for the next generation, black and white people alike.
In closing, when introducing MLK to the upcoming generation, let them take away whatever is most relivant to them. He spoke to everyone, that includes Black, White, politicians, pastors, rich, poor, police, students…anyone who can see and hear. His presence has the power to exist for all of eternity, but we most stop reducing it down to single moments that WE like about him and forcing our children to see the same thing.