Martin Luther King’s words can be quoted by anyone, for any purpose, says Christopher Emdin — from “the FBI, who were against him” to the political system that “ostracized him while he was around” but would “use him to celebrate their agendas today with a statue in Washington.”
So last year on MLK Day, Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education, decided to bypass King’s words, wonderful as they are, and instead speak to the deeds. In a videotaped message he posted on Instagram, Emdin offered 10 reasons to remember the late civil rights leader and Malcolm X, whom Emdin described as his biggest inspirations.
TIPPING HIS HAT Chris Emdin says that King and Malcolm X gave of their heart and soul as teachers.
Topping Emdin’s list is King’s courage and persistence. “He underwent severe personal attacks and did not falter. Folks lied on him and said he wasn’t Christian, he wasn’t woke enough, he wasn’t radical enough — and he was not concerned or consumed, and he went on with his work anyway.”
Almost as important, King’s ego didn’t get in the way: “He always surrounded himself with people who were smarter than him. MLK had a crew, who could very well have been leading the same kind of initiatives that he was. The Jesse Jacksons of the day — like, them cats could have been him — so that he could remain sharp, on point.”
Folks lied on him and said he wasn’t Christian, he wasn’t woke enough, he wasn’t radical enough — and he was not concerned or consumed, and he went on with his work anyway.
—Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education
He confronted his own foibles. “There were tremendous personal mistakes that MLK made. He did a bunch of things in his personal life that were problematic. But he did not allow himself to hide behind his mistakes and not pursue his work.”
King and Malcolm both loved their families and were amazing story-tellers, with the ability to “construct the narrative as if they were in the story with you.” And they both taught — or as Emdin puts it, “they sat and stood with crowds and gave of their heart and soul through the art and craft of teaching.”
And then...there were the threads. “In the words of Biggie — ‘should have been number one to me’ — they both dressed well. You tell me when you’ve seen an MLK picture or a Malcolm X picture and it wasn’t clean. And I think folks oftentimes misconstrue, you know, woke-ness with not having to be concerned about the aesthetics and presentation of self. And I make the argument that how you dress and what you wear often dictates where your soul is at. Because when you dress clean, you soul-clean.”
On MLK Day 2021, we bring you, once again, Chris Emdin’s message, as only he could deliver it. Listen, reflect — and enjoy.