I attended a HBCU but long before I ever step foot on the campus of Virginia State University, I was infatuated with the marching band. The instruments made me happy as each player contributed to the rhythms that made the crowd react with smiles and the best boogie their bodies could produce. The halftime show was the perfect relief to the rough and tumble tackling of the football game; it was the transition that made everyone a part of the football game. Most of all though, it was flare of the drum major who could do the unthinkable; make the crowd give him their undivided attention because of the selfless ways in which he danced to the beat of the drums and blew his whistle to command the whole band setting the stage for what the crowd would feel next. Yeah, the drum major took direction the band director, but he created the fervor. The drum major evoked the energy inducing the crowd’s participation. The drum major created the event.
Every January 16th, this nation celebrates the birth of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the conscientious Atlanta minister that died doing what he had committed his life to–changing our world so that it could represent the best of all of humanity. On February 4th, 1968, exactly 2 months before his untimely assassination in Memphis Tennessee, Dr. King stated the following to his Atlanta congregation:
“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (1968-02-04)
Dr. King, was directed by the hands of the Almighty as he stole the show in the performance for equal rights and justice. And, this was a lifetime show. At the tender age of 26, Dr. King was leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the movement in which throngs of African American Alabamaians demonstrated impeccable will power for an astonishing 381 days while they vowed not to take a bus ride in a transportation system that devalued the worth of their dime and the merit of their humanity. Dr. King as a 39-year-old husband, father, brother, and son was just getting ready to begin his life, still serving as the drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness, when he faced his demise. Within this drum major was a vigilance that has yet to be reproduced and an actualization that creates a moment to exhale within me. Never once did Dr. King not experience butterflies in his stomach; every speech was a moment for him to deliver the speech of his life and to lead his band to the best of his ability as the whole world watched his command.
On the eve of this death, Dr. King delivered the speech that still gives me chills from the delivery of his prophetic, “I might not get there with you,” line in reference to reaching the promised land. As the drum major of his band, he knew the show still had to go on despite illness physically weighing him down. It was in this hour that he called on his spiritual heavyweight, the Almighty, to help him to deliver an economic plan for advancement, equal rights, and justice. The strength of his voice and the rattle of his chubby cheeks spoke not of a man battling a fever, but man vowing to stick to a promise to “leave a committed life behind.”
Everyday I dance to the rhythm of Dr. King’s unaudulturated love for mankind and on January 16th, I do an extra dance. But, I have to do more than just dance. As his band, we’ve wavered in our commitment to perform the best show of our lives, to move the on-lookers in the stand, and to pick up the baton for the drum major who would be 83 years young but still fired-up today. I know the times in which Dr. King lived were difficult, but yet he rose to the challenges. Everyday, I pull a lot more from the committed life he left behind. I think about the fears that prevent me from reaching my fullest potential–a fear of being the best that I can be. I know that the Almighty has equipped each of with the most profound faculties for growth and development and I want to utilize my equipment better for there is a drum major within me, also. I pull from the mercies of the Almighty in every prayer and thought and the strength in Dr. King’s examples. My very existence depends on it. As for our future, Dr. King said:
“The road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. … Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.”