NEWARK, NJ — The People’s Organization For Progress began its annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. March For Equality, Justice, Peace and Democracy at the Martin Luther King Jr. statue, 465 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Newark on the slain civil rights leader’s birthday, Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 5 p.m.
And on Thursday, Jan. 17, P.O.P. celebrated King’s revolutionary life and legacy with an MLK Observance event featuring a panel presentation and discussion that included Dr. Akil Khalfani of the Essex County Africana Institute and others.
“Just a preliminary note: it’s important to remember that Dr. King did not die a natural death. He didn’t die of disease, of cancer, he didn’t have a heart attack, he didn’t have a stroke. He didn’t die in his home or in his bed. He was assassinated. And as far as we are concerned, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King is still an open case and those who are responsible for his death should still be brought to justice, no matter how long it takes,” P.O.P. founder and President Larry Hamm said at the Jan. 17 event.
Hamm said he and P.O.P. members aren’t the only ones who feel that way about King’s assassination.
“Mrs. King, in 1999, brought suit in federal court that Dr. King’s assassination was the product of a conspiracy that involved multiple intelligence agencies,” Hamm said. “Dr. King was assassinated at age 39, but he was only in the civil rights movement for 13 years. Dr. King was supposed to be in Washington, D.C., with the Poor People’s March. He never got there, because he was killed in Memphis.”
Hamm and other panelists at the event said they organized it to keep King’s revolutionary spirit alive, as opposed to the popular image of the nonviolent protest leader as a “dreamer” who dreamed of equality and human rights for all men, regardless of race, color, creed or religion. He also said King was “probably one of the forerunners of black liberation theology.”
“A revolution is not self-improvement. Revolution is an act of self-defense. It’s not an act of self-violence, because the state exists on its propensity for violence. If the state is disappearing, people, at some point, you might have to form something to defend yourself against the violence of the state,” Hamm said. “Revolution is when you attempt to remove the people in power and replace them. When we refer to ourselves and others like that, we must be careful to make sure that the people we call revolutionaries are actually engaged in the act of revolution.”
Based on that definition, Hamm said King should be regarded as one of the finest revolutionaries ever.
“What he wanted was a revolutionary change,” said Hamm. “When we founded P.O.P. we did it with the idea that we wanted to keep the efforts and legacies of people, including Dr. King, that died for the revolution and justice. Revolution is not easy, but it is necessary.”
Khalfani and the other panelists agreed with Hamm about King being a true revolutionary. He also said everyone that attended the Jan. 17 event was blessed by the unscheduled and unexpected appearance of Rev. Herb Daughtry Sr., the national presiding minister of the House of the Lord Churches, who spoke for about an hour before the panel discussion began.
“The first thing I want us to think about is we are here today and we had the blessing to hear the words of Rev. Daughtry. I would suggest that today we all had the opportunity to sit silently at the feet of the elder, and so it’s a blessing to have had that opportunity,” said Khalfani on Thursday, Jan. 17. “One of the things that we see in Dr. King is that he was teaching and learning at the same time. And many of us, especially once we get educated, we think that we’ve learned all that we have to learn and all we have to do is to teach. I would suggest to us that’s one of the biggest flaws, because one of the things for me is that the more you know, the less you know. That is, the more you know, you know there is so much more to be known, that you know that you’re ignorant of so much more.”
Khalfani said that earlier that day he had appeared on a radio show in which he had discussed the true meaning of revolution, a definition relevant to King’s life and legacy.
“I think that Rev. Daughtry made some poignant remarks about us understanding about revolution and that we have misconceptions about what revolution is and what it’s not,” Khalfani said. “We think that revolution means you have to have a gun or some bombs or something, but revolution, what he was talking about, was the revolution of an idea. He was talking about the revolution of your mind.”
Actually, Khalfani said the words “revolution” and “revolutionary” are misnomers and what truly open-minded people working for positive, progressive changes in society and culture should be described as “cleaners.”
“Most of our minds, based on white supremacy and capitalism and all these other things, have been brain-dirtied actually, and we need a good brainwashing,” he said. “Washing suggests cleansing. Washing suggests that it’s prepared for something else; that you’ve gotten out the odor and the grime and everything else, but they’ve given you nothing but odor and grime and we wallow in it. So we need to get rid of that odor and that grime, so that we can be cleansed, so that we can actually open our minds and our eyes to realize that there’s value of something still out there that we’ve missed.”
Once a person’s mind is cleansed of all the bad things dirtying it, Khalfani said, they’re then ready to truly take up King’s revolutionary legacy.
“What’s the next step in my revolution? What’s the next step in the transformative ways in which I’m going to be doing what I’m doing?” asked Khalfani. “I don’t plan to be the director of the Africana Institute forever. I plan to be training some folks to become the director, so that I can go do some other stuff. We’ve got to stay focused on the mission, and sometimes it takes new ideas to wake us up to the mission. We need to use the weapons to transform our own reality. So when we transform our own reality, then we have the power to move into the next thing, so we can figure out how we’re going to do it, who we’re going to partner with, who we’re going to find that unity with.”