January 19, 2020 Dr. King, The Artist by Monica O. Montgomery

By Monica O. Montgomery, Executive Director, Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. should be remembered as a freedom fighter, a skillful orator, an organizer, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and… an artist. An artist? Yes, an artist! His legacy isn’t often framed as art, perhaps because his works are seen as serious: pivotal in the struggle for civil rights, instrumental in strategic risk-taking, and essential to humanity.

However, when we stop to think about it, the work of an artist has that same gravity: spotlighting social justice, taking calculated risks, illuminating our shared humanity. The late, great, incomparable Nina Simone famously stated, “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”  And Dr. King’s legacy reflects the times he lived in. Times of uncertainty, times of tension, times of dissonance, times of retaliation, times of hate speech, times of fraught interactions, times of prejudice, and times of divisiveness. We live in times like those today, in 2020.

If my thesis holds up that Dr. King was an artist, bringing creativity to his freedom fighting, speechmaking, rallying, demonstrating, writing, and leadership, then his artistic legacy lives on, inspiring those creating avenues for conversation, finding common ground, and promoting justice.

How, then, can we be artists too? We can be not just bystanders, but “upstanders,” realizing that even if we are but everyday people, we can do more than before. We can make a difference, have an impact, take inspired actions. We can display a spirit of resilience and resistance through generosity, integrity, and creativity. We can build a landscape of justice and apply artful interventions to our toughest challenges.

This MLK weekend, the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center is proud to partner with All Souls to forge a beloved community. Our event series, “The Art of Nonviolence,” will explore creative expression and “artivist” (artist + activist) approaches to  manifesting justice. My colleagues and I are excited to build bridges with this community of faith and the general public we both serve. The synergies we will co-create through spoken word, artistic presentation, discussions, and more will be innumerable, inspirational, and lasting. Let’s hope they will also spark a flame for our inner artist to spring forth and manifest justice in the world in the ways we can.

Last Published: January 16, 2020 9:49 AM
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