The footsteps of marchers and the chants of protesters echo in every decade of American history, and with a crescendo of vibrant intensity, the halloo of a voice from the not-too-distant past is heard worldwide. We know the man behind the voice as we recognize key phrases, but can we discern the message? This voice, with its southern drawl and country twang, penetrates through the years not to comfort us, but to confront us as we move through a new decade, and it is unmistakably that of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Having celebrated 26 national Martin Luther King Jr. holidays, it is incumbent upon all of America not simply to honor the man, but, more importantly, to rediscover the message. His words have been so sanitized and distorted by the political right and left that it sometimes seems as if King has been whittled down to a cuddly—and convenient—dreamer. If we do not investigate the message behind the dream, we will completely sidestep the nightmare of injustice that brought forth the dream.
This message begins with love. Not a sentimental love, but the selfless, unrestricted, all-embracing love for all human beings that the Greeks called agape. Justice, the continuation of King’s message, is an extension of love and, as Cornel West suggests, what love looks like in public. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the state in which mutual harmony exists between people. Love, justice, and peace are never ends in themselves, and certainly cannot be obtained by war or oppression. They are means by which we gain an end, that end being the beloved community.
The theme for this year’s Juilliard’s M.L.K. Celebration was King’s idea of “the beloved community.” We took this opportunity to critically investigate King’s message as the forces of hatred and ignorance that propelled him to speak continue to pervade America, whether through the injustices of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, or violence. We extend this opportunity beyond January 17 to reinvest in the message behind King’s action and example so that we all may be compelled to stand unreservedly for love, justice, and peace in every sphere of society, creating the beloved community.
—Jeremy Tardy, Second-Year Drama Student