In the Mix

October 16, 2011

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

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Written for: Communicado Magazine
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I went to see the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in early August, 2011. Luckily, there was a window of time after it was finished and before it was dedicated when it was open to the public. I got in on that window.

The first thing I want to say is that this memorial is stunning. I’ve been to lots of monuments and memorials and museums here and throughout Europe and this is one of the most thoughtful creations I’ve seen. It’s modern, but, historic; And the grounds are serene but powerful.

But, there has been some debate about whether it is a proper representation of Dr. King’s legacy. I’ve found the only people who think it should be different are people who are not of color. The people of color love it. Additionally, the word is that Dr. King’s family signed-off on this rendition along with several other pertinent people. That’s good enough for me. Here’s what I like about it:

The physical monument itself consists of a stone statue of Dr. King surrounded by a polished granite wall of his quotes. The statue is nice, but, the quotes are breathtaking. Many of them are quotes most people may not have ever heard.

I like that visitors can go to this memorial and learn something new. To be familiar with Dr. King’s most notable quotes and not be able to connect them to the history of his work is a disservice. This memorial accomplishes that; Everyone can leave taking away references to the history of his work and dedication to the cause. And the graduation of his dedication is clear as you read the quotes.

And the location is somewhat a matter of discussion as well. It’s not the most accessible memorial, but, it is in the perfect location. Visitor’s have no choice but to walk to the memorial, but, if you think about it, all of the monuments and memorials in Washington, D.C. require some degree of walking.

The difference in this case is that this memorial is set along the tidal basin. If you’re familiar with the Jefferson Memorial, it’s across from that along the same tidal pond. You can actually walk around the circular pond from one monument to the other, taking in the cherry blossoms and a garden or two. The other monuments don’t quite have this level of ambiance.

I also want to make note of how unfortunate it was that this dedication had to be postponed. While this is a monument representing equality for all, it clearly holds a special place for black folks. I think this was one of the most exciting things black people have had the chance to experience since President Obama was sworn-in and I’m sure many of them were not able to re-schedule based on the new date. The new date ended up being October 16, 2011 – The 16th anniversary of the Million Man March, but, the event came and went without much fanfare.

Sad fact: The original date for the dedication was Sunday, August 28, 2011 – the 48th anniversary of Dr. King’s, “I Have a Dream” speech. Hurricane Irene blew through WDC Saturday, August 27, 2011. Sunday, August 28, 2011 turned out to be a beautiful day in the Nation’s Capital. 🙁

My hope is that all people of all stations are able to see this memorial because it’s just that great. And it reminds us all to embrace tolerance in everything we do. Look at different as different; not good or bad. You might find that different may help you grow into a better person. Different may end up being something you like…