DMI Blog

Elana Levin

On MLK Day, About that Funny Name…

In honor of Martin Luther King Day today I thought it was high time to rerun Andrea's blog post from waaaay wayyyy back explaining how DMI got our name and our connection to Martin Luther King Jr's vision of a more just world.
By Andrea Batista Schlesinger

"That's a funny name. What does it mean?"
"If you really want to make it, you'll start by changing your name."
"Do you give drum lessons?"

These are the questions I've gotten used to in my four years working with the Drum Major Institute. (Thankfully, we get them less than we did in the beginning, but enough to tempt me to run a side business offering drum lessons as an additional revenue source.)

So I want to take this opportunity, on the day in which we celebrate Dr. King's legacy, to explain why we are called the Drum Major Institute for those of you who do not know:

DMI was founded during the civil rights movement by Harry Wachtel, a lawyer and advisor to Dr. King, who was part of a group of lawyers based here in NYC that Dr. King would refer to as his "think tank." Dr. King could count on them for counsel during difficult moments, and the Drum Major Foundation, our predecessor, was a vehicle for raising funds to support the movement.

The name comes a theme of Dr. King's that is best captured in this last sermon that he gave at Ebenezer, "The Drum Major Instinct," exactly two months before his assassination :

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator--that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize--that isn't important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards--that's not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.

Today, the Drum Major Institute aspires to live up to our legacy of serving as a think tank to the larger movement for social and economic justice. And so we wear our funny name- proudly.

(Picture: Harry Wachtel and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

There are some great MLK Day blog posts online today you should make a point of reading.

From Alternet's Adam Howard: "Reclaiming King: Beyond "I Have a Dream"
From the AFL's blog "King Day Celebration Combines Civil Rights, Labor and Political Strength" and new videos too
Brave New Films' War On Greed campaign site has a great video, a new post "What you may not know about Dr. Martin Luther King" and links to more good writing on MLK and economic justice.

Also read Rick Perlstein's "Conservatives and Martin Luther King" on how conservatives went from demonizing MLK in the 60's to sentimentalizing and "domesticating" King's memory in order to depoliticize King's radical at the time message of racial and economic justice.

Elana Levin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 10:34 AM, Jan 21, 2008 in Civil Rights | Drum Major Institute
Permalink | Email to Friend