How Martin Luther King Jr. inspires us to take care of ourselves


A statue of Martin Luther King Jr. graces the east mall of the University of Texas in Austin. On Monday, people will gather in honor of King’s birthday. [RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Cierra Noffke, Staff Writer

On Jan. 23, UNC Wilmington hosted a commemoration in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. The keynote speaker for this gathering was Susan Taylor, the former editor-in-chief of Essence magazine, a publication dedicated to the celebration and divinity of black women. Taylor curated the magazine into the popular cornerstone of representation and vivacity it is today. Through its evolution, Taylor’s own voice emerged sharp, imploring and saturated in wisdom.

The event began with a video detailing the aesthetics behind the black rights movements. The video highlighted the fact that protestors had purposely worn ‘their Sunday best’ to prove they were more than a crippled lower social class ignored by the white and wealthy politicians of the time.

After the video and an introduction, Taylor, a queen-like being with iconic gray cornrows draped across her shoulders, graced the stage in Kenan Auditorium on Wednesday night.

Instead of focusing only on the idea of creative protests and the importance of fashion, Taylor delved into a swirling amalgamation of her own life story, the plight of black children today and the legacy of MLK. Her words touched on a myriad of topics. She presented the astonishingly high rates of suicide among black children, which are twice the rate as white children, snippets of conversation and insight from Coretta Scott King, MLK’s wife, the disarray of today’s political structure and the continued criminalization of black children, specifically boys.

“People ask me what I would say to Dr. King if I had the chance,” she addressed the auditorium, “I would say I apologize. I apologize for our generation dropping the baton and taking our eyes off the prize.”

Taylor unveiled through her soft-spoken words, the importance of celebrating being. The beauty of black women, adolescence, African fashion and motherhood–they each deserve their own ode, their own monument.

However, her flowing, multi-faceted speech was based on a single premise: the discovery of oneself.

In a room full of college students, the Wilmington black community and nonprofit organization members dedicated to equality, education and community, Taylor told everyone to take care of themselves.

“When they cut Dr. King’s chest open after his death, they found he had the heart of a 60-year old man,” she told the audience. The stress and sacrifices he made during his brief, beautiful life had slithered their way into his heart and corroded it.

Taylor bid us all to invest our lives in worthy causes, but not to forget the essence of our beings.

“You are a divine being,” she said as the room hushed, “You have the ability to choose. The ability to move forward.”

To Taylor, the secret to a life well-lived is a life of sacred self-awareness. It is to slip into the womb of one’s being, to understand it and to adorn it with love and respect. A return to oneself, to values and heritage, leads to the awakening of what matters the most to a person and becomes their guiding light.

Existence, according to Taylor, is measured by the truth of oneself. From this truth, everything else evolves.