Sunday, January 20, 2019

Remember This House

This is my first blog entry of 2019, and as is customary for me most years, I am usually fairly silent during the first few weeks of any new year. I have been busy with other things and on other social media, but somehow this first long weekend in January, when we remember and celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems fitting to break the bloggy new year ‘s fast and put some thoughts to screen.

As many of you may know, MLK, Jr. figures prominently in my own notions of social justice. In my second year as a VISTA (Volunteer In Service to America) I, along with a group of other local VISTAs, spent our entire year dissecting institutional racism – what it was, how it manifested itself in our respective work sites as well as our everyday lives, and what we might do about it. King featured prominently in the supporting works I read, as well as my taking note of his own thought evolution on social justice. Along with a handful of undergraduate courses, that year-long inquiry, more than a decade ago, stays with me to this day. I still feed off the lightening-bolt moments I had as a result of an off-comment here, a well-placed paragraph there, as well as the memories of intense conversations we had as a group.

While my days of direct service are all-but over, my willingness to continue to dig deeper into the entire history of this country remains strong, and this weekend is always a personal reminder that I still have much to learn. In that vein, I highly encourage each of you to find and watch Raoul Peck’s excellent I Am Not Your Negro, his 2016 ode to James Baldwin, via one of his unfinished works, Remember This House. Using (as Baldwin was intending) the deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and MLK, Jr. as a thematic link and backdrop, Peck masterfully brings to life Baldwin’s unfinished last work. Through it, Peck also (as he admits in an interview included as a video extra) keeps Baldwin alive through the current medium of choice – video and cinema. It is, of course, a meta nod to Baldwin’s final written material, as the writer was attempting to do the same (as well as so much more) with the examination of the referenced deaths.

Undoubtedly, this 2016 documentary also makes a singularly powerful statement on the current issue of race in today’s America. Using archival footage of Baldwin’s own speeches and talks (he died in 1987), it shows how far we’ve come as a nation, and yet how easy it has been to fall back. There is, also, a 1969 Dick Cavett show exchange between a white professor and Baldwin that is not, absolutely not, to be forgotten. Talk about not missing his shot.

There is so much more to say – both of Baldwin and King. However, it would be just my thoughts and impressions, and that is not what I want to convey. Read any King writing this weekend; watch this masterful documentary based on and inspired by Baldwin, himself a slave’s grandson. Determine how best you might be as light a societal presence as possible, and then live it every day. That is a legacy King (and Baldwin, I expect) would encourage.