While the power of a great speech of freedom thundered throughout the Washington National Mall,
delivered by the great leader Martin Luther King, Jr., these are the lesser known words that were whispered behind them. Mahalia Jackson, known as the “Queen of Gospel”, was a fellow civil rights leader, and close friend of Dr. King. While much is recorded and known about the controversy, hardship, and challenging road to obtaining equal rights for black Americans in the 1960s, and the dream Dr. King fought for, what is lesser known is the monumental shift that those simple words from Mahalia Jackson inspired.
Dr. King often delivered versions of his “I Have A Dream” speech. Yet August 28, 1963 was to be different. Mahalia, who had been invited, as many times prior, to sing her famous gospel pieces at King’s events, excitedly persuaded Dr. King to “tell them about the dream”. Though King had touched on it many times prior, this was to be the monumental moment in which he bore it all; vulnerable, frightening, honest, and dangerous, in a time when the black man and woman faced violence, oppression, and utter hatred. Yet these simple words, from this women to this man, inspired a moment that would not only forever alter American history, but the human understanding of working for freedom.
This moment not only speaks for the power of the oppressed to rise, through love and nonviolence, but also for the power of the men and women to work together. In this illustration, we see a woman who wholeheartedly believed in a man’s dream, and supported that with her full pursuit. Whilst it was Dr. King who delivered this infamous speech, one dually understands that this speech was the echo of the thousands of men and women standing before him.
Our greatest modern slavery is that of human trafficking.
Over 30 million are enslaved to its various forms. It is alive and well, and very much so in the United States, though authorities in world systems have worked tirelessly to bury it. A hard truth, yet a harder one is this; this modern day slavery will never end by rescue alone. There are deeper and subtle narratives underlying the motivations to global exploitation; and the key to eradicating them may very well lie in a place we have largely, as a global culture, left unconsidered.
The bond and influence shared between Mahalia Jackson and Dr. King illustrates a powerful theme; that an immensely influential man’s most pivotal moment was influenced and released by the faith and boldness of a woman. The result was an unprecedented social and ideological shift in culture; founded in the bond and friendship of a man and woman, who united in one core belief; freedom was meant for all, and that freedom could only ever be achieved via an approach rooted in inclusiveness; non-violence; forgiveness; justice; and above all, love; a foundation that proves equally as dangerous as it is promising.
It is a theme that we, as an organization, are standing upon; the core belief that men and women must unite in principles of love and forgiveness, or fall to agencies, influences, and practices of division and vengeance. There is no obscuring, erasing, or justifying the atrocities of human trafficking, exploitation, sexual assault, or the long and heartbreaking list of other deplorable realities that have come to attention in our world. Yet the social and media cultures of outrage, angst, and incitement of violence that we have built around these issues will not only fail to heal us; it will destroy us.
The issue is deeper than a legal, social, or political response; it is a human issue; a heart and soul issue; and until we view global exploitation and corresponding cases through a lens of human illness and lack of skills / education for recovery, I make you a grave promise, as a man who once was one of the “monsters” himself; exploitation will not end, and not only will it continue; it will worsen.
Thus, here we have the inconvenient, uncomfortable, and even overtly offensive truth; that exploitation, not only in industry, but in human regard, does not end until we address and offer healing to both the women being victimized, as well as the men responsible for victimization. Until we recognize and respond to both as captives, none can truly be free. It is why we now undertake a new identity and title:
The Mahalia Project .
It is our to raise a banner,
and a people, for that freedom. A new approach that examines and provokes cultural conversations on empathy and healing in a holistic mindset that understands that both victim and victimizer have been slave to an evil and bondage over the mind, heart, and identity. We will work to understand and partner in response to young women with shattered confidence at the hands of modern beauty standards, as well as young men who feel the pressure of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. We will utilize art, fashion, media, and empowered sensuality to combat and redefine the toxic shaming cultures and uninformed world views of this modern war. Where others have chosen to demonize, we will choose to draw upon empathy. Where others have raised their voices in blind rage, we will raise education and awareness with purposeful and tactful delivery. Where others have seen an enemy, we will see a fellow hurting human being and echo, in words and action, the lasting truth of Dr. King: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
This approach is intrinsically bound to the legacy of love and leadership of unified men and women, as illustrated by Mahalia Jackson and Dr. King; and dually, bound to the promise we built this dream upon: “We will never stop fighting for you, no matter what the cost.”
We are not heroes; we are humans; believing that such a foundation is the most important place to begin, thus focused on approaching what makes us all similar, and dually, beautifully different.
The flag we raise is a tattered one; beautifully flawed by the sweat, make up, paint and polish, glitter and grunge of the various artistic concepts we have created with a most beautiful army of young men and women; it is not a pristine or polished remnant; it is not without themes of darkness and despair; yet it does not wave without hope.
We extend our deepest gratitude to all of those who stood with, believed in, and supported us in our time as The Priceless. We look forward to sharing life, love, and liberations with all of you, and many more, as we move forward as The Mahalia Project. There are many stories to be told, and many ways to tell them; yet no matter what the cost, let us never surrender this one passion.
We will tell them about our dream.
Daniel V . The Mahalia Project