50 ways to lead with love on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

These remarks were prepared for and delivered at Words of Change: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at The New School

Like most things that require deep attention to transform, to realize the kind of justice in this country King dreamed of, we have to put in the work.

In the words of King’s unyielding aid, Rev. Jesse Jackson: “We are in a battle for the soul of America, and it’s not enough to admire Dr. King. To admire him is to reduce him to a mere celebrity. It requires no commitment, no action. Those who value justice and equality must have the will and courage to follow him. They must be ready to sacrifice.”

So, in the spirit of the Black radical tradition, this is a call to action of 50 ways to lead with love on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of one of the most visionary people to ever live and lead:

1.     Practice the radical act of self-love and compassion.

2.    Mobilize yourself, your family, your community and your country.  

3.    Support and bolster the leadership of Black and Brown women of all ages, orientations, faiths, and geographies.

4.    Refute injustice in the courtroom the classroom, the board room and on the street.

5.    Demand an end to police harassment and terror. Demand an end to policing as we know it.

6.    Hold your elected officials accountable by showing up to committee meetings and flooding their voicemails and emails with your demands. Take seriously your right to govern yourself.  

7.     Build and convene member-led organizations where everyday people can strategize together about how to build power for ourselves. Don’t be afraid to demand power – only with power can we realize the full potential of all people.

8.    VOTE.

9.    Fight for the abolition of deadly policing and justice for every person killed by law enforcement and vigilantes. And free all political prisoners.

10. Join an organization, pay dues, and participate.

11.  Organize for full access to technology including net neutrality and universal access to the internet without discrimination.*

12.  Dare to dissent when no one else will.

13.  Fight for the right for all people to decide when, where, how, and with whom to have a family.

14.  Embrace failure as a resilience practice.

15.  Don't assume you can transcend what it means to be an impactful organizer or activist, a solid ally, or a good human.

16.  Demand, as King did, better wages and safer working conditions for all workers.

17.  Be brave enough to acknowledge your own biases and privileges and to course correct as a matter of self-transformation and love.

18. Speak with clarity and courage. Don’t hedge your words. If it’s racism, call it racism. If it’s sexism, call it sexism. If it’s transphobia, call it transphobia.

19.  Demand open and safe borders and sanctuary for refugees and immigrants no matter where they come from.

20. Make space for grace. For yourself and others.

21.  Say with conviction and base in your voice that ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER.

22. Acknowledge the need for safe, medically accurate, and comprehensive sex education in the classroom.

23. Demand an end to the use of fossil fuels.  

24. Work to end the privatization of education and petition for real community control by parents, students and community members.

25. Recognize the humanity and care for the transient and homeless.

26. Organize for safe and affordable housing for all people.

27. Have courageous conversations with the people close to you whose values are not congruent with safety and inclusivity for all people. Do that one today.

28. Commit to a culture of rigor and discipline in the fight for human and civil rights.

29. Defend and avenge the right to dignity and life for all transgender people.

30. Believe people when they say #metoo.

31.  Welcome people of all faith traditions to worship wherever and whenever they please free of fear and religious profiling.

32. Fight for a living wage, a universal basic income, paid sick and family leave, and parental leave for birth, foster and adoptive guardians and parents.

33. See, acknowledge, and mandate that care work is real work and a caring economy is one to which we all belong.

34. Place people above corporations today and every day.

35. Care for the environment and settle for no less than clean drinking water, pollution free air, and safe, healthy  and affordable food.

36. Support all people giving birth in this country to do so under healthy and autonomous conditions without coercion and with the birth worker of their choice.  

37. Protect your time and energy by radically caring for yourself.

38. Demand our legislators reinterpret the second amendment and implement gun control so our babies come home when we send them to school.

39. Organize for direct democratic community control of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.* Safety and security in this country can no longer be left to the state.

40. Practice the bold and revolutionary art of disagreeing with dignity.

41.  Organize to protect our right to vote free of intimidation, repression, and meddling. Demand a true democracy for us all.

42. As Dr. King loved to do, laugh. Laugh loudly, to tears and do it often.

43. Practice honest and genuine listening. Listen to the people around you, hear what they have to say, heed it.

44. Demand that healthcare isn’t a privilege, but a right. That preexisting conditions are part of the human experience not to be exploited or capitalized upon.

45. Accept nothing less than 100 percent transparency from our lawmakers and our government. If they can’t give you that, they don’t deserve to lead.

46. Mandate that dying with dignity and having access to affordable burial services is for every person.

47. In the name of Kalief Browder and every other person whose lives have been ruined by extortion and imprisonment, demand an end to money bail, mandatory fines, fees, court surcharges and “defendant funded” court proceedings.*

48. Practice patience, kindness, and forgiveness. Do this every day and with intention.

49. Participate in radical acts of kindness; the kids that take people by surprise, change the material conditions for the people who need it most, and that prioritize equality over ego.

50. And finally, build a beloved community and nurture them.

This political moment may feel new, but we’ve been here before. The question is, are we the same as before? The same nation that turned a blind eye as statues of confederate soldiers were erected, our civils rights leaders slain, mass captivity prisons built, and American imperialism lauded at the expense of the humanity of people we’ve never met who are just like us— or are we different? Are you different?

By committing to a rigorous approach to community building that starts with empowering people who have the least and asking questions about things we do not understand, we can create an ecosystem of care that extends beyond our wildest imaginations.

Take these 50 ways, do as dr. King did, and lead with love.


*Part or all of this demand comes from the Movement for Black Lives Policy Platform.