The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A powerful Starbucks homage to MLK

(Jonathan Capehart/The Washington Post)
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The problem with national holidays for columnists is figuring out what to say about the significance of the day that has not already been said. With a powerful ad, the folks at Starbucks showed they didn’t suffer from such an affliction.

The events of the past six months alone bring the importance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday into high relief. The deaths and reactions to them of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice are just three of many examples of how the slain Atlanta preacher’s promise of “We shall overcome” remains an aspiration. Without question, many parts of King’s “Dream” have become reality. For example, in the demonstrations over the deaths of Garner and Brown we saw “little black boys and black girls . . . join[ing] hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers” to proclaim that “Black Lives Matter.” But those protests illustrate that many aspects of the dream are out of reality’s reach.

Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island are additional pins on America’s map of fraught racial history. Each incident leads people to question how far we’ve come, to bemoan how far we have to go, and to wonder what can be done to ensure such a horror doesn’t repeat itself. In a full-page ad in the New York Times, Starbucks issued an incredible call to action.

“It’s time to look at things differently. Again,” the copy reads. The power of the ad lies in the line above the text. At first glance, it is confusing. You see a single line of letters with MLK standing out in red. You soon discover the letters are the alphabet displayed in reverse order. A chill went up my spine when I realized that MLK was a naturally occurring sequence in a reversed alphabet. You had to look at things differently to see it.

We have been on this seemingly endless loop of self-reflection since the founding of the republic. But each turn around the loop demands that we look at things differently. And when we do, each turn around that loop makes things a little bit better by adding to our understanding and the compassion that grows from it.

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