Note: Readers can find poems on Dr. King, audio of the poem, and other writings by Hakim Bellamy at his website.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and I go way back. Growing up in South Jersey, Grandson of Deacon Gennessee Charles Bellamy and son of (then) Deacon Edward Frederick Bellamy … you best believe my hind parts spent the better half of Sunday getting acquainted with a wooden church pew. I was a Sunday school regular Christ Care Unit Missionary Baptist Church and member of both the young adult and mass choirs. The latter of which shared the pulpit with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest daughter, Dr. Bernice King. Twice.
I arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico on MLK Day in 2005 (no lie). Shortly thereafter, I became a fledgling radio reporter at KUNM 89.9FM (Albuquerque’s NPR station) and enjoyed the distinct honor of meeting and interviewing the late Yolanda King, the eldest child of Martin and Coretta.
And just a few months ago, I set foot in the same church that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself was both baptized as a child and ordained as a minister. Consequently, it was also where his funeral was held.
However, my real understanding of his complex legacy comes from my annual participation in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Celebration at Amy Biehl High School. An breathtaking example of forgiveness and sacrifice in their own right, the Biehl family founded a school to honor the legacy of Amy … a white, 26 year-old Fulbright scholar and anti-apartheid activist who was murdered in 1993 by Black men in Cape Town, South Africa. A year later in 1994, Biehl’s parents, Linda and Peter, founded the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust to develop and empower youth in the townships, in order to discourage further violence. The legacy of this school, is one of courage, scholarship and community; as evidenced by their commitment to service learning. Emphasized by the student body’s commitment to showing for school (read: their community) on their “day off” engaged in a day of volunteership.
And every year since 2009, I have written an original poem about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in order to rally, relate and provide some context to the lineage of love that they now find themselves direct descendants of. I am always thankful, that my words are somehow affiliated with their work. Always blessed by the invitation to dive deeper into compassion, complexity and contradiction that King left behind.
This year, I decided to take a cue from Dr. Michael Eric Dyson’s text April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Death and How it Changed America. This poem an “automortology” in the form of a letter from Dr. King … to President Barack Obama TODAY … four days before he vacates the office of the President of the United States.
“He always knew some speech would be his last.”
– Andrew Young
Dr. Martin Luther King Died of Heart Disease: An Automortology
Surely by now, you’ve come to the sobering truth that has shadowed your Presidency, and turned me into a ghost. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. That line … originally a fiction, first penned in 1975 by Gerald Seymour in his book Harry’s Game. A tale about an Irish Republican Army assassin and a British undercover agent…a familiar story about personhood, whole citizenship, borders … or should I say “Lack of boundaries” and nation building… and that arbitrary line…a moving target between love and hate.
That line, the one I found myself at the dead end of and you find yourself on both sides of, the one you learned to double dutch on one foot somewhere between Honolulu and Washington, D.C. Me, a man of the cloth…so God forgive me for what I am about to confess… but, Barack, you are what I believed in. Little Black boys holding hands with little white girls and … doing more than just holding hands … birthing nations in college dorm rooms on campuses barely integrated six years prior. Making love. Making “Leaders of the Free World.” Making you. Nothing but a fantastic beast to some, but to others…a mythical creature, to those whom Black Presidents have never been anything more than a figment of their imagination.
So there’s a new line now. And from one gifted orator to another, I’m sure it’s one you know all too well. One man’s dream, is another man’s nightmare. Eight. The same number of years older than me you were when you took office. Both with children, afraid for our lives, and theirs. Wives, strong enough to share us with the rest of the world, but insecure enough to know that the same secret surveillance that records our phone calls is also privy to every single plot to take our lives. They chose not to intercept mine, but I thank God that you survived. Survived all the crosses they burned on the White House lawn. The cyber assassinations of your character and the terrorization of Black churches on your watch.
I am unsure if I would have made as good a President as you. As good a President as they say I would’ve. I mean, I would have been fine with all the talk of death, the frequency of eulogies, the constant consideration of conflict, the relentless discussions about labor, justice and war. But at 39, I was already eating and drinking my way through a great depression. Upon realizing that whatever sickness our society was suffering from, was contagious … and possibly fatal. It’s been said that I was killed by an act of hate, but I prefer to think I simply died of a broken heart. A lost “hope,” that you found.
I took a bullet, so that in four days you could walk out…or in…any color house you want, without so much as a scratch. My slaying as inevitable as your inauguration was unexpected. In a way, we’ve both given our lives to this country…with nothing but a legacy of servitude to show for us. But you, are the one thing that I will never be…alive. And I am the one thing America’s founding fathers assured us that you’d never become … a King.