Up Next


Pots & pans: Another Dr. King day. Another day of promises still unkept

Watching the NBA today should encourage but not distract us from MLK’s larger game

“It’s not light we need, but fire.”

— Frederick Douglass, 19th century abolitionist

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time.”

— James Baldwin from his 1963 collection of essays, The Fire Next Time.

Damian Lillard speaks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s courage to stand up for his beliefs and sacrifice his life.

Many will mark Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday by watching televised basketball, especially the NBA, which is scheduled to play nine games.

Indeed, as is the case on Christmas Day, Monday’s NBA basketball will be a gift that keeps on giving. That’s fine with me. The rhythmic dribbling on the basketball court always reminds me of the influences of the African drumbeat in America, ragtime to hip-hop and NBA basketball.

Further, watching great ball handlers such as Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry make their way to the hoop reminds me of the deft dance black America does with anti-black racism to reach its goals. And watching Monday’s dominance by black players in the NBA reminds me how wrong conventional (white) wisdom can be about black people, especially when that supposed wisdom is rooted in facile and incorrect stereotypes, such as black players once being dismissed as too slow to play big-time basketball.

CHARLOTTE, NC – JANUARY 18: Kemba Walker #15 of the Charlotte Hornets warms up before their game against the Utah Jazz at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 18, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Still, some will complain that today’s cornucopia of basketball games will take away from a more serious appreciation of King’s work and martyrdom: from leading the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 to winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, four years later.

For those critics, the thump of the basketballs will drown out the conversation the nation should be having about economic injustice at home and wars around the globe, challenges that King sought so eloquently to combat, challenges that continue to plague the nation and the world.

To be sure, appreciations of King, who was born Jan. 15, 1929, from today’s NBA officials and players will do little to further the nation’s understanding of the many ways racial and economic injustice imperil us all.

But it’s our country that continues to do too little to realize King’s dream: that the Founders’ poetic promise of an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness would include all of America’s citizens. The fault lies not in our sports or entertainment stars and political pundits but in the hearts and minds of countless white Americans who refuse to embrace people of color as full citizens and as full human beings.

At Christmas, my 23-year-old son Marc gave me a copy of The Fire This Time, a collection of black writers responding to 21st century anti-black racism and social injustice. While reading the book, I was stunned that so much of what Baldwin said in his The Fire Next Time was being echoed more than 50 years later. Indeed, the current book makes reference to Baldwin, just as Baldwin made reference to W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folks, which was presented in 1903.

Kyrie Irving discusses Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision and the steps he made for the equality of all people.

I’m chilled and saddened by the possibility that a third volume, perhaps titled The Fire Rages, will be written 50 years from now by another black author or group of African-American authors, the 2067 book, like its predecessors, a cry of pain and a roar of survival.

In 1963, Baldwin’s Fire demanded that our nation renounce white supremacy and “end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.”

Baldwin billowed with a puff of sumptuous smoke from the page, “I know that what I’m asking is impossible.”

Is it still?

A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.