It’s July 2016. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have just been killed in police-involved shootings.
I’m in Atlanta with my church where people are outraged. Like cities across the country, protests and marches are planned.
While eating dinner outside at a restaurant on Peachtree Street in downtown, I witnessed a march filled with people enraged about the loss of black life at the hands of law enforcement.
Their chants were clear: “No justice, no peace. ‘F’ the police.” These chants were not unlike chants I heard on television from Black Lives Matter protests taking place in cities across the U.S.
Admittedly, I was concerned because I didn’t think that profane language and that kind of expression of anger was helpful.
In fact, I believed it fed the “angry black” stereotypes and could possibly in people’s minds justify the unnecessary killings of black men. Considering the unfair media coverage of these protests, I questioned the strategy.
Here’s the truth. I was just as enraged as they were.
Dylann Roof goes into a Charleston, South Carolina, church and kills nine people.
He is arrested without incident and provided a meal from Burger King, while black men are killed while selling CDs and cigarettes and being pulled over for traffic violations.
Yes, I was furious. Something had to be done. However, I wasn’t sure that Black Lives Matter pursued the right course of action.
As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., we must do so in context. Although we revere King in 2020, he was a very controversial figure during his time.
Many black preachers were jealous of the attention he was receiving and refused to support his agenda. White supremacists sought to intimidate him with death threats. He was jailed almost 30 times despite his nonviolent approach.
King embodied a love ethic and strongly sought to live in what he called The Beloved Community. However, there were those that disagreed with this approach.
One man in particular was Malcolm X. He was a New York-based member of the Nation of Islam that strongly believed that white people were the devil and that it was time for black people to stand up for themselves “by any means necessary.” Other groups thought along these lines as well.
In 1966, the Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland with the intent to protect black neighborhoods from violent law enforcement.
They were willing to defend themselves proportionate to what was done to them.
In 1967, a photo of one of the party’s founders, Huey Newton, was published. It showed him sitting in a chair with a rifle in his right hand and a spear in his left.
This photo sparked fear into the hearts of many, and support for the organization increased.
Despite those that disagreed with his approach, King continued to proceed and achieved signature legislative success with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
He fought for the poor, for labor rights and even spoke out about the war in Vietnam.
As I examine history, I am certain King would not have been as successful as he was without the contributions of people like Malcolm X and groups like the Black Panthers.
It is often necessary to have multiple approaches to achieve the same goals. Just like King, Malcom X wanted equality for black people and that all people would have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Over the last few years, this perspective on King has led me to re-evaluate my opinion on Black Lives Matter.
This group has organized itself to address the dehumanization of our people. They fight for people to have safe spaces.
In saying black lives matter, they are not suggesting only black lives matter. They believe black lives should matter just as other lives matter.
In their words, “We embody and practice justice, liberation and peace in our engagements with one another.”
And just like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and The Black Panther Party, they serve as a critical component in the fight against injustice in this world.
Black Lives Matter has a voice that matters. This group has a love for black people rooted in a love for humanity, which desires to see all human beings treated with dignity and respect.
I admire their passion, and I admire their effort. It’s OK if I have a different approach to the fight. Each approach is necessary for the goal to be reached.
During this celebration of Martin Luther King Jr., I celebrate Black Lives Matter.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2020. The previous articles in the series are:
Shepherd Your ‘Little Church’ as Thermostat to Alter Society | Aidsand Wright-Riggins
Decades Later, Why is Martin Luther King’s Dream Still a Dream? | Starlette Thomas