On the Eve of Reclaim MLK

Chicago's installment of the National Moment of Silence, August 2014. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Chicago’s installment of the National Moment of Silence, August 2014. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Great revolutionary movements are built from a place of love, and the same is true of great moments of transformative activism. As organizers we’re always striving to build moments that have a profound impact on others. For me, that means pouring my heart and soul into the creation of spaces where love, rage, and community can coexist, and where those who join hands and lock arms can build movements with deep roots.

I live my life in the pursuit of those moments, and all that I hope they might bring into the world.

Tomorrow, Chicagoans who care about social justice, youth empowerment, and the legacy of a great Civil Rights leader will come together in common cause, and lift up the voices of a new generation of freedom fighters. It’s a very exciting day for the community, but also for me personally, as I have had the privilege of playing a role in the organizing of Chicago’s Reclaim MLK Day event. I’ve written previously about the evolution of this event, and how I found myself working with elementary school students to help craft their vision for the reclamation of Martin Luther King’s radical legacy. What I haven’t mentioned is that, in addition to being Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, tomorrow is also my own birthday.

I’ll be 34 years old.

Last year, my friends celebrated my birthday with a raucous party and a solidarity action for the NATO 3. That was a complicated time for me, but I do cherish the images of solidarity we generated that night.

Tomorrow, I will celebrate my birthday by attending a sing in for reparations, a theatrical protest, and the Reclaim MLK Day march. The first two actions will be amongst at least five solidarity events being held at the request of the young organizers of Reclaim MLK. It’s been amazing to see people rise to that call, and I’m grateful that I will be able to attend some of the actions groups have planned for this occasion.

My thirty-third year was a mixed bag – beautiful, heartbreaking, and full of both love and rage. As a depressive person, my ability to experience the beautiful aspects of my life, as fully as I should, is often compromised. Perhaps that’s part of my hunger for extremes.  But regardless of where I’ve been in the last year, or how I’ve felt about it, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate being alive than to stand in love and resistance with my community.

I have so many emotions tied up in this day, and so much respect for the young organizers involved, and for the radical legacy that they are reclaiming, that I’m a bit more nervous than I usually am before an event. There are a lot of moving parts to this thing, and a lot of reasons to get it right, but I know I’m working with some of the best and brightest radical minds in the city, and that what matters most is that we create a space to lift up the voices of our young leaders.

I believe we’re doing that.

So, I would like to thank everyone who has come together to support these young people, and to aid us in creating a space for their words and vision. I hope you’ll be able to stand with us tomorrow, but either way, I hope you will join us in the coming weeks and months as we fight to make sure the demands of our youth led Reclaim MLK coalition are met. One of those demands is that the City Council hold a hearing on the reparations ordinance before the February elections, which I’ll say more about soon.

In the meantime, I hope you will join some of the Village Leadership Academy’s bright students on Twitter tonight at 9pm (CST) as they host a chat about youth activism using the hashtag #‎VLAStyle. Follow @kaleb2202 , @jakayahobbs7902 , @brandonwilkins, and @TenAHman to get in on the conversation.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, I’d like to invite you to check out this video compilation of photos from protests that have been organized in Chicago since the Black Lives Matter movement began in August. It includes a lot of my own photos, a few from movement photographer Sarah Jane Rhee, and music from activist and hip hop artist David Ellis, who will be among the artists joining us tomorrow at Reclaim MLK. I put the video together in the run up to this event as a reminder of the fierce, creative energy that has carried us to this moment. I hope you will find its imagery and David’s music as inspiring as I do.

If you’re coming out tomorrow, please remember to dress warmly. For now, I’m going to watch this video one more time and remind myself how lucky I am to be part of such a brave and beautiful community.

I’ll see you in the streets, friends.

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