I have mixed emotions about Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Not because of Dr. King, but because of what he’s been reduced to: a dream and a dreamer — not the radical he truly was. Those who simply dream aren’t assassinated. Dreamers aren’t a threat, and King was. 

Yes, he was nonviolent, but don’t confuse that for being weak. King was anything but weak. He was unabashed and unapologetic in his demands to America. A weak man wouldn’t take on Bull Connor. A weak man wouldn’t have the courage to allow himself to be beaten while stifling the urge to fight back, or be arrested and jailed to improve life for Black people specifically, but really all people. Passive nonviolence was the tool he chose to expose America’s hypocrisy. And expose he did.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, King actually said so much more than what is highlighted and co-opted by conservatives who try to use his words to mask their racism.

King actually wrote more than that one speech, and he didn’t pull punches — whether friend or foe. In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” he called out “the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”  Calling them “a stumbling block” toward freedom. That had to sting!

Over the years there have been efforts to besmirch King’s legacy: he cheated on his wife, he cussed, he plagiarized. He was a full human being, imperfect, nuanced, full of flaws and contradictions like any other human being, but he lived a life dedicated to standing up for what’s right. He sacrificed time with his family, the safety of his family and ultimately his life trying to make America better. The list of people who love humanity to that extent is a short one.

This country will have you believe it was behind King’s ideals from the very beginning. Not true. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The first federal observance of the holiday was Jan. 20 1986. Arizona didn’t officially observe the holiday until 1993 — almost two years after I graduated high school! (Shout out to Public Enemy for “By the Time I Get to Arizona.”)