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In commemoration of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr holiday, Crossroads offers a series of reflections from the Rev. Dr. Danté Quick.
I'm dead in the middle of two generations
I'm little bro and big bro all at once
Just left the lab with young 21 Savage
I'm 'bout to go and meet Jigga for lunch
Had a long talk with the young nigga Kodak
Reminded me of young niggas from 'Ville
Straight out the projects, no fakin', just honest
I wish that he had more guidance, for real
Too many niggas in cycle of jail
Spending they birthdays inside of a cell
We coming from a long bloodline of trauma
We raised by our mamas, Lord we gotta heal
We hurting our sisters, the babies as well
We killing our brothers, they poisoned the well
Distorted self image, we set up to fail
I'm’a make sure that the real gon' prevail, nigga
-J Cole (Middle Child)
I am humbled to have been asked to pen a series of reflections on my Morehouse and Alpha Phi Alpha Brother, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ph.D. and his dream for the Crossroads Theatre Company by my dear Sister Monica Weeks. I have struggled with the burden of this task. On the one hand I desire to celebrate the legacy of Brother King! His Nobel Prize and various accolades have dominated our understanding of the Apostle of non-violence and love! Yet, King died a hated man! Many, even within the Black Church despised him as his Jeremiahian growing edge continued to blossom in intensity! But why? Why was the most famous Black man of his era being disinvited from Black church pulpits by the end of his life? Why were the youth of his time growing weary of his message of love and non-violence through the voices of rising radicals like Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael aka Kwame Ture. Well…FaceBook may well have it right…let’s just hit the “it’s complicated” button!
Dr. King and Brother Kwame are no longer with us in the physical. Yet, the reality which they both sought to transform is still very present! Enter stage left…J Cole!! His 2019 drop of “Middle Child” offers insight into legacy! Not just Dr. King’s legacy, but the legacy of that which he struggled against is ours to handle today! “I'm dead in the middle of two generations, I'm little bro and big bro all at once” exclaims J Cole. You see beloved, generational poverty and despair are giving birth to fetuses formed in the womb of trauma and born in blight!
As we reflect on the legacy of Dr. King, let us not make the mistake of reducing his witness to a purveyor of passive peace! No…he evolved into a Prophet of power whose purpose was to expose and redeem the victims of radical racial capitalism…the legacy of whom J Cole artfully articulates in “Middle Child!” Far before Cole was born, King gave voice to the suffering of his people in a July 28, 1967 episode of “Face to Face.” At the time, urban areas were engulfed in riots/flames…and the “dream” was morphing into a nightmare as Dr. King began to understand the symbiotic and incestuous relationship between race and economics. Here the lyrics of King: “The problems of our cities today are very great, and the problems of Negroes living in these cities are equally great and sense. Some 92% of the Negroes of the United States find themselves living in cities, and they find themselves living in a triple ghetto in these cities on the whole: a ghetto of race, a ghetto of poverty, in a ghetto of human misery, and by the thousands and even millions Negroes find themselves unemployed and underemployed. Young people find themselves attending segregated schools that are so often devoid of quality and thousands and thousands of Negroes in these cities are forced to live in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. All of these conditions have made for great despair and so many of the people who find themselves caught up in the agony of their daily lives end up with the view that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign, these are the people who in moments of desperation find themselves engaging in riots that we have seen taking place in our country…”
Legacy!! As we reflect on Dr. King today…we must never honor him without engaging the struggle for which he was martyred! He dared to see the enslaving structures for what they were/are, gateway ghettos designed to be incubators of self-destruction! Entire neighborhoods where “niggas” negate themselves one generation after the next! Legacy! But what now?! How does Dr. King inform us to move boldly into our future?
First...Dr. King’s message of the basic dignity of every human being must be revived! All men and women, regardless of what makes us unique, are born into the heritage of worth! Ethnicity and sexuality are not markers for the minimization of the other. No, they are to be affirmed as the imprimatur of God, endowed with dignity and shrouded with the Spirit of God! Beloved, if you rob a person of their dignity, you have enslaved their minds and need not bound their bodies. For enslaved minds are self-containing and destructive! King came to embrace the linguistic shift from “negro” to Black and thus embrace the inherit beauty and dignity of all men and women. This is the first step towards engaging the generational trauma to which J. Cole speaks.
Second, we must conduct a rigorous analysis of the structures of oppression as a step toward organizing for liberation. The Civil Rights Movement began as an organized effort to enter the larger system of capitalism on the terms set forth by the white supremacist hierarchy. As time moved and King learned, the question became not simply integration but equity. With the emergence of “The Poor People’s Campaign,” different questions began to emerge. What does it mean for me to ask to sit at YOUR lunch counter versus what does it mean for me to own the lunch counter? Racism and economics must never be separated. Like conjoined twins, they share the same birth canal! We must begin to understand the systems with which we interact on a daily basis in an effort to transform them. We must ask not only who wrote and performed the song, but who owns the distribution mechanisms?
In effect, the legacy of Dr. King must continue with us. We must take ownership of communities designed to be tombs and resurrect those encased therein until we create the beloved community! All hands must be brought to bear in this effort! Churches must advocate, theatres like Crossroads must educate, schools must liberate and minority business must innovate! We are Dr. King’s legacy! We must go forth and witness to “the Dream” that has been too long deferred!
About Rev. Dr. Danté Quick
Rev. Danté R. Quick, Ph.D., senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, Somerset, New Jersey is a popular lecturer and writer. He is well known for his research and expertise in Philosophical and Systematic Theology with a focus on African American Studies. His work is considered an important resource for religious educators.
Lyrics from “Middle Child,” written by Jermaine Cole, Allan Felder, Norman Harris, and Tyler Williams. Performed by J. Cole. From the album Revenge of the Dreamers III released by Dreamville and Interscope Records.