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  • Writer's picturePete

Martin Luther King, the importance of character and a brand NEW DAY

Updated: Jan 31


While making the video for New Day (check it out), a few thoughts/liner notes came up involving humans, the planet, the future, Martin Luther King, the content of one's character, courage, hope, freedom. You know, little things. I wrote them down. I hope they're useful in your everyday life.


To capture the mood of the song, I used public domain footage from NASA to show this inconceivable, hopeful planet from space. Needing more footage, I stumbled on the 1963 documentary, The March, by filmmaker James Blue, in the U.S. National Archives. The film documented the stunningly inspiring and remarkable 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.


The speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by Martin Luther King has been removed from James Blue’s film for copyright reasons; strange seeing as King’s voice has been used in Dodge Ram commercials. But in my memory, one line of King’s, among many, stuck out. King spoke to the heart of a mesmerized crowd estimated to be 250,000 people, three-quarters of them black: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”


Granted, what Martin Luther King precisely meant to convey in that sentence remains contested over time; deeply, in fact, in recent years, by smart people. 


But in this era of pathological polarization, I’d like to make a suggestion. Imagine committing not only to the essence of King’s plea, but to an expansion of his plea that includes, along with skin colour, not judging by ethnicity, gender, religion, atheism or even political affiliation. Imagine first seeking instead the content of one’s character.


In this hyper-media driven world—infected by Power and supercharged by Artificial Intelligence—striving to see a person’s character as more important than their ethnicity, gender, religion or political affiliations is an act of beautiful resistance.


Put into specific practice, imagine NOT immediately judging a Canadian in 2024 by whether they are for or against, say, Trudeau or Polievre, or neither, but by the content of their individual character.


Imagine not judging all civilians in Russia, the Ukraine, America, Canada, China, Iran, or wherever, by their leaders, but by the content of an individual’s character—the character of kind humans striving to survive, to help their children flourish, to see a better future.


Imagine not reflexively judging Palestinians by Hamas’ heinous, murderous crimes or Israelis—let alone all Jewish people—by Netanyahu’s horrific willingness to keep killing to stay in power, but by the content of an individual’s character.


Imagine not judging all MAGA followers by Donald Trump’s behaviour or a person of the so-called Radical Left because of some fraction of an ideology one disagrees with, but instead seeking the wider content of an individual's character: compassion, insight, care or courage to stand for freedoms for all.


Almost all humans hope for a safe and loving tomorrow as they grapple with existence today. What could it hurt to step forward and ask: “Regardless of race, gender, religion, political ideology, poverty or even richness, does that person lean towards kindness, love, empathy, courage?” I know so many people who do.


Or even could that person, that ideological stranger, given a little more love, become a little more loving? I believe in the essence of King’s words, and my heart says yes. What do you think?


Side trivia note: John F. Kennedy, before the march happened, called it “a great mistake,” Malcolm X called it, “the Farce on Washington” and the head of the FBI’s intelligence agency under J. Edgar Hoover, wrote in a memo two days after the march: “We must mark [King]…as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of Communism.” Clearly, you can’t please everybody with non-violent, multi-racial solidarity.


If you get a chance, read Jonathan Eig’s masterful King: A Life.


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