Remembering the real King on MLK Day

By Michael Kinney

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration has come and gone again around the country.  Held on Monday, Jan. 16, it has reached national holiday status in which students and many workers get the day off.  

The Oklahoma City Thunder is one of the organizations that makes sure they honor the holiday by sending their players into the community. This year, a trio of Thunder joined broadcaster Michael Cage at Thelma Parks Elementary on January 17 to celebrate King’s legacy of giving back to the community.  

While at the Thelma Parks Cage read and distributed free copies of Brad Meltzer’s “I Am Martin Luther King Jr.” to a group of students during a Reading Timeout.  

“Things like this provide an opportunity for our kids to get exposed to community leaders, with people who are in the community doing great work and giving back,” said Thelma Parks Principal Jessica Johnson. “The Thunder has always been a great supporter in that and exposing our kids. To hear from him and his experiences, it was wonderful. He talked about how as a kid when he was growing up and remembered when Dr. Martin Luther King passed away. He really didn’t understand it at that time.” 

When Cage was done, Thunder players Tre Mann, Mike Muscala and Aaron Wiggins made their appearance in the school cafeteria. They joined selected members of the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams to create 60 gift baskets that will go to residents at the Mount Olive Senior Cottages.   

The activity gave the players a chance to interact with the students and discuss school, basketball and whatever else is going on in their lives. 

However, it also enabled the Thunder to think back to when they were the same age and learning about King.  

“I remember him just not being afraid to challenge norms and to change the landscape of humanity really, especially in this country,” Muscala said. “Just having that voice and just standing up for what he felt was right.” 

Muscala is also glad that the new generation of students, like the ones he met at Thelma Parks, are learning some of the same significant traits that have made MLK an icon. 

“Because there’s going to be challenges in their lifetime as they get older that this collective group of people is going to need to hear voices too, hear a strong voice that’s not afraid to come out and say what they think is right,” Muscala said. “That’s a challenge of getting older is when you feel strongly about something are you going to stand up and say something or not be afraid to. Maybe it’s right, maybe it’s wrong, but just saying what you feel.” 

However, there are those who believe that is not the message that is coming out when King is talked about these days. To some, the image of King has been sanitized and whitewashed and the general public is only getting a caricature of who the man really was and stood for.   

Civil rights hero, non-violent protest and his famous I have a Dream speech seem to be the sum of what you see in the media or taught in even higher education.  

Most people forget King was at one point considered a revolutionary because he led the charge against police brutality, was under constant FBI surveillance, he was for a universal basic income and believed in financial freedom.  He was labeled a race baiter, a socialist, an antagonist and unpatriotic because of his stance against the Vietnam war. 

 In 1966, two years before he was murdered, a Gallop poll measured his approval rating at just 32 percent. Yet, King refused to be silent or be cowed into changing his stances.  

These are not the facts that are taught today or even brought up. Some of the reasons have to do with the current political climate. But that is not the only reason. People just don’t know or were never taught themselves as the revolutionary side of King has slowly been erased from the history books. 

Yet, the 21-year-old Wiggins sees it differently. The second-year pro is more optimistic.  

“If anything, I’d say that a lot of young people are beginning to kind of embrace a lot of what he had in terms of standing up for the things they’ve believed in and the things that they feel are right,” Wiggins said. “I think people are embracing Martin Luther King’s energy and his ability to kind of stand up for what’s right. So, if anything, I wouldn’t say we’re fading, but more so embracing a lot that he brought to the table.” 

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Photo: Michael Kinney

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