Home » Black History » If We Must Die…Let Us Live Like King

If We Must Die…Let Us Live Like King

It’s Me!



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If I [we] speak immortality, I [we] will always BE.

If life and death lie in the power of the tongue, I choose to speak LIFE.

I saw Chi Raq, a documentary film by London-born filmmaker /photographer, Will Robson-Scott about the ruthlessness of Chicago’s urban streets today. While the film is only 13:06 minutes long, the grittiness of the realities of the men in this video live inspired the writing of this post.  In addition, I was driven by an inquiry into how our thinking shapes the trajectory of our lives.

Midway through the video, I also thought of Claude McKay (Who is Claude McKay?), the phenomenal Harlem Renaissance writer and his amazing challenge to mankind posed inclaude mckay his poem, “If We Must Die.”  When McKay wrote this poem in 1919, World War I had recently ended.   Soldiers were returning to adverse situations; not enough employment and the harsh reality that a “new” group of Americans had filled their positions and moved into “their” cities. While America’s involvement in the war was abbreviated (America did not enter World War I until 1917 under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson), it was long enough for Blacks to impact the social aesthetics of some of America’s largest cities.  And, soon enough the domestic terrorism of racial violence America faced was just getting started.  Whites resented the Blacks that had taken vacant jobs and Black resented being treated less than human even though slavery days had ended long enough for Blacks to adjust to having an improved quality of life.  Between the communist paranoia plaguing people’s’ minds (The Red Scare) and the heightened racial tensions that led to intense race riots (Red Summer), America was falling apart at its seams–and even then Chicago was a powder keg of senselessness and murder.

Claude McKay, while observing the world in which he lived, took a very bold stand in support of life and living.  He didn’t write “when we die” instead he chose a more inquiry and definitive approach by writing, “If we must die.”  All our lives, many of us have been taught to do all that we can on this Earth because eventually we will die. For Blacks during the slavery institution, and beyond, the lesson has always been to wait to reap the rewards in death; for, our lives are an impasse until we get “to glory.” Today, that message rings out louder and clearer.  The only difference is that today, impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhoods, often deemed “the hood”  are not waiting for their members to become aged to see what glory is all about.  In “The Hood”, glory is an RIP Mural on the side of an obscure building that will eventually go “down dilapidated (Erykah Badu).”  Glory is sporting of an over-sized, boldly printed, white T-shirt bearing a slain person’s obituary.

And, Glory is also serving fervently in life and in death like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. KingDr. King, the immortalized Civil Rights leader was killed on April 4th, 1968, but he has not served one day in death. Dr. King spoke words that emanated life and today, he lives. He lives through our deeds, by our observances, via our intentions and through our service. Living like King is not to live a life beyond reproach, but one that inspires others to not be afraid to stand/walk/march…run the world in the shoes they bear.  To live like King is not to be afraid of taking risks, but to keep trying when adversity blares the strongest.  To live like King is not to wither in hate, but to grow in love. To live like King is not to wallow in an abyss of ignorance, but to soar in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. To live like King is to never die giving up, but to live life fighting back, standing up, speaking out, and pushing on.



If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O, kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!


  1. mahdimensah1 says:

    ZAKIYYAH!! I love it! The blog and the poem just inspired me to keep pushing forward no matter what. This poem needs to be read by anybody who has ever felt like giving up or giving in to the evils of the world in which we have to live and eventually die.

    • Zakiyyah Ali says:

      Rasheedah! Thank YOU very much for always taking the time out to read my posts and to write such heartfelt and introspective comments! I really appreciate it ❤😊

      Ms. Zakiyyah Ali Twitter: @DoItGurl Cell: 347-262-7572 “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.’ Frantz Fanon

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