Keynote address by Hakim Bellamy for the Santa Fe NAACP in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2012 at the New Mexico State Capitol Rotunda January 16th, 2012.
Walking in the Light of Creative Altruism:
Committing Ourselves to Community Service
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Hundreds of thousands of people have decided that they will not be closed today. That they will not be off today, that they will serve. They have decided that the best way to honor a great servant, is by engaging in great service. And to those folks, we aught to clap today.
See, there is a slight difference between celebrating and following, Dr. King. I mean, we honor by donating our time, donating our attention, to Dr. King today. We celebrate, commemorate and honor him. And that’s good. He’s worth ALL that. At least that. But following him means Service. Coming here at 11 am and setting up these chairs, volunteer? Service. Taking his life away from Coretta, Yolanda, Dexter, Bernice and Martin the III to give to us, the recipients of his sacrifice, service. What over 300 students at Amy Biehl High School in Albuquerque did this morning…when they reported to school…not for class…but for day-long community service projects…Service. I was there this morning, sharing my poetry with them as a pep-rally of sorts, to inspire them as they begin their day of serving the community…in memory of Dr. King.
As a creative…they ask me to use my art to interpret Dr. King’s legacy for the student body. To determine, artistically, what Dr. King means, to me? What lessons can I share? Speak from the heart…like King did. It’s an honor I’ve upheld for, now, four years running. That’s a whole lot of Dr. King…poetry, research, immersion, philosophy, etc….fortunately, there is a whole lot of Dr. King to go around. There is a lot of YOU to go around. More than you think. I know time is a commodity in everyone’s life. We are all patiently waiting on the day of some global accord where the rulers of the world and NASA get together and decide to add that 25th hour to the day, that 8th day to the week. We wait. Wait until we have more money, to give. Wait, until we have more education, to lead. Wait until things get worse, to help. Wait until we have more time, to volunteer. We don’t always GET more time. In Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King expressed his disappointment with “moderates” who would tell us to “WAIT” for a more convenient season. Dr. King only had 38 short years and he did a lot with a little ya’ll, the time to serve is now.
Dr. King said “We must use time creatively.” He said, “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” He was consumed by and convinced, that this idea of creative altruism was the way to go. That creativity is good, and service is great, but the simultaneous application of the two, together is the answer. “The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it,” said King. “Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.” He said that ain’t revolutionary. People been rioting for years, with limited effectiveness. People had picketed and protested for years, but a lunch counter sit-in, a bus boycott, a march on the National Mall, an OCCUPATION of the National Mall. Yes, the Poor People’s Campaign was the first Occupy. Dr. King said “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” When you have no other available options, you have to make something up. So we serve…
We sacrifice. “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…” said Dr. King. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” We talked about creativity, now we’re talking about altruism. What made King successful, was his creativity. But what he is famous for, is his altruism. He is famous for the ultimate sacrifice, in the line of duty, serving his country and his vision.
Now King wasn’t the only one to talk about service and sacrifice. A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves,” says Mother Theresa. “The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.” She said, “When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.” She said, “Love cannot remain by itself — it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service” Dr. King is in good company, but what Mother Theresa is saying we don’t have to give our life, like Dr. King did…to be committed. We just need to give our time.
We can’t ignore the needs we have in our community, that won’t fix it. King said, He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. He said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” He said, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
We can’t simply throw money at the needs of our community either. Not if we truly want to see it changed as opposed to just saying, that we did something or we did our part. He said, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” He said, “Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one’s soul.”
He’s never been more right, than he is today. And as we honor his Dream today, we must acknowledge that he was no bet hedger. No incremental dreamer, like our history books like to make him out to be. He wanted the whole pie, not just a piece. His methods were gradual, but his vision was grandiose. He said, ““I admire the good Samaritan, but I don’t want to be one. I don’t want to spend my time picking up people by the side of the road, after they’ve been robbed and beaten up. I want to change the Jericho road.”
So we might give clothes to the Salvation Army and we might send food to the food bank…but we aught to be challenging ourselves to creatively find a way to end homelessness, to end hunger. And it may take us to places we couldn’t have foreseen. Places we hadn’t planned on going. That sanitation workers strike in Memphis took Dr. King to his date with destiny.
You know the story. One day two garbage men jumped into the truck to get out of the cold and the rain. In a freak accident, the compression apparatus in the truck that compacts the trash, crushed the men to death. On $.80 an hour their families could not afford the funeral. This precipitated a strike for the almost entirely black sanitation workforce in Memphis. The said there was no way they should be working 40-50 hours a week and still need food stamps to live. They wore signs, that simply said “I AM A MAN.”
King’s staff did not want to make the stop in Memphis. They told King that they were behind in their primary objective, the Poor People’s Campaign on the National Mall. King said he could not ignore the call of his striking brothers. He said, he can’t say no to these garbage workers. And after the first sanitation march ended in violence. King went back a week later, and when his staff asked “Why?” He said it was because he promised them.
In his Mountaintop speech, the last one he preached on April 3rd, 1968…he famously said, “The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?’ The question is, ‘IF I DO NOT STOP to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them? That’s the question.’” We should be asking ourselves the same question, what would happen if I do not commit myself to service, to altruism. Love…is not enough, Dr. King said.“Power without love, is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”
So as we commit ourselves to community service (not just today, but everyday)…we must acknowledge our power. We already got the Love, don’t we?! Love for each other, love for our families, love for our community and love for our country. But whether you know it or not, you have the power too. YOU HAVE THE POWER TO ACT. As Dr. King said, Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” And here, in such a marvelous building as our State Capitol, I thank you for not being destructive. And as evidenced by your presence here today, for not being selfish. Thank you.
Delivered at Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the New Mexico State Capitol Rotunda January 16th, 2012. Keynote Address for the Santa Fe Branch of the NAACP.