Martin Luther King: A Dream Is a Terrible Thing to Waste
The brother who owns the store turned his attention from me a moment, squinted at the girl and said from behind the counter, "Hey! You're not in a gym, you know."
Following his gaze, I turned to look at the kid, who appeared to be nine or ten. She had the delicate brown face of a young Mary J. Blige. Her fuzzy, unkempt hair was trapped in a rubberband with one long braid hanging down the back.
Anyway, she stopped bouncing her ball. She obediently pressed it against her green husky jacket, beneath which fell baggy camouflage-print pants. She stepped a little closer to her old granddad. But glanced sheepishly at me.
I smiled, noticing her thugged-out jewelry. Around her neck was a long, "silver" chain with a spinner emblem dangling at the end. So wanting to smooth over her embarrassment with a compliment I quipped, "You're a real baller, huh? Like that ice, girl!"
The child grabbed the chain and proudly lifted it closer for me to admire. At the same time, the store owner snuck me a glance and quietly said, "Umm... That's a boy..."
Oops... How could it be? I was too confused. I should have shut up, left it right there. But on I chatted -- now wanting to smooth out my own embarrassment. "So you have the day off from school for Dr. King's holiday?" I chimed.
He nodded yes.
I said, "Well, what did Dr. King do? He must have done something mighty important for us to get the day off. Tell me a little something about Dr. King."
"Uhhh.........................." the young gender-bender began verrrrry slowly. The three of us adults waited and waited. The child must have felt like Tupac: All Eyez on Me. "Uhhh..." he continued, "Dr. King did a lot of things............................ He played basketball!!!"
Now I thought the granddad would pass out in embarrassment. And if he hit the floor, he'd have to leave room for my completely dropped jaw.
I grappled to justify this child's bizarre reply. Maybe, I rationalized, this kid knows some trivia about Dr. King that I don't. Maybe he attended college on a basketball scholarship or something. And under pressure to answer, this was all the boy could recall at the moment.
Worried about the legacy of Dr. King -- that a 10-year-old today thought The Man was just a friend of Shaq's or something -- I dashed home to hit The Goog Monster. To keep hope alive...
On a mission, I opened Google's home page to begin an info search about MLK's b-ball skills. Lo and behold, here's the Google header that greeted me:
It took me a while, but I found this quote by Dr. King's daughter, Yolanda:
... And my dad was really quite a funny man. He was a bit of a cut-up. He was a jokester. He loved to tease, he loved to laugh. He probably could have been quite an athlete as well. He taught me to swim when I was four and taught me how to ride a tricycle and then into a bicycle, and we played basketball and baseball and went to the local amusement park. He and I, the two of us, would ride the dangerous shake-you-up rides, he called them "faith machines." We'd get on them and just have a ball, he was a big kid...
Well, guess that little drag queen told me!
Anyway... here's some other fun stuff that caught my eye about the "big kid" who became The King...
Sounds like Dr. King and his siblings were some bad-azz kids. Their mother had them taking piano lessons for years and they hated it. On numerous occasions, Marty and his brother sabotaged the piano, tried their best to destroy it. His brother took a hammer to the piano keys more than once. To this day, their old house in Atlanta -- now a historic landmark -- displays this very piano. And it is missing teeth.
Another time the King boys unscrewed the legs on the piano bench, praying that when their piano teacher visited again, she would sit on it and wind up crashing to the floor. Presumably she would never come back, having been successfully chased away by these little imps. Apparently, Dr. King's commitment to "nonviolence" would develop late in life.
As a youngster, Jesus wept was his favorite blessing for meals. Only because his belly was an infamous bottomless pit and he wanted to get quickly to Fried Chicken Heaven. So he always kept any grace-saying short and sweet. Cluck and apple pie were among little Marty's favorite foods. The kitchen, they say, was the mighty crumb-snatcher's favorite room in the house.
Guess it's a good thing that snaggle-toothed piano wasn't kept in the kitchen. For had Mama King fallen off that shaky bench while watching her pots, who knows if this child's hide would have been spared to lead a single march.
At the age of about eight, knuckleheaded Marty jumped out of the 2nd floor window. Lucky for us, he went unscathed. The rambunctious child also loved to slide down the banister inside their two-story home. One time, though, little Marty had a Chris Tucker moment: He got knocked the **** out!
I mean, poor Martin Luther rammed his little head into the cellar door, rendering himself unconscious. Three Stooges cuckoo birds aside, I wonder if this is when he first had his famous dream...
So what's the moral of this story?
- Never give up on a child. Even the bad-azz, fuzzy-headed ones are full of potential.
- Parenting itself may be the greatest "faith machine" in our lives, a double-decade long ride one can only hope to survive.
- Even grown folk like us can still learn a thing or two about the heroes we claim to know so well.
- And when we get ready to fight for another "black" national holiday, we should take it easy on ourselves. By-pass the great Rosa Parks and just shoot that hoop for Jordan.