THE BOTTOM LINE | What would Martin Luther King Jr. do?

Most of the problems that we face as human beings are difficult to figure out because we cannot all agree on a formula that would satisfy more than one side. But what if you had a situation where the formula was simple and it would be easy to get agreement on how to use it?

We are lucky to live in such a place, and it’s called Martin Luther King Jr. County. The formula for solving problems is simple because it starts with the question, “What would Martin Luther King Jr. do?”

Because of all it took to get this county renamed for King, we should have evolved to the point where this formula should be a natural part of our entire governmental, community and religious systems. 

Our police accountability board for the Seattle Police Department can use this formula in dealing with the issue of how the police should interact with people of color. 

Our political leaders can ask this question when they decide on which programs to save and which to cut, and our religious leaders can ask this question when they look at their role (or lack of a role) in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked or giving shelter to the homeless.

If this becomes the foundation of how we decide the big and small issues of our time in Martin Luther King Jr. County and the answers we discover work here, we have discovered a national model that will work as well anywhere else in the nation.


The right question

If you ask the question often enough we will eventually come up with a group consensus on a wide range of issues, because the right answer always start with the right question. What would King say about black children not graduating, elderly being abused, gun violence, gang violence or how the banks we bailed out show their appreciation?

We have a huge amount of data on King’s philosophy, and every year, we read it and discuss it in our schools and churches. But we still don’t have a consistent way of taking that philosophy, which is universally praised and accepted, and make it a functional part of the world we inhabit every day. 

This should be the only place in the nation where that question should be used as a foundation to make decisions in the courts, school administration buildings and political chambers of this county. 

This philosophy needs to be the lead question by any African-American leader or individual in every decision we make because it gives everyone in and outside our community the same starting point, the same philosophical framework to look at and the opportunity to apply a shared vision to a specific area of the nation.

What would King do is a question that eliminates a lot of personal ego and nullifies divisive political agendas. It is a question outside of local infighting or religious turf wars.

It gives us a consistent way of looking at who we are and what we are trying to achieve in Martin Luther King Jr. County. 

Those who are impacted by the decisions understand the philosophy of those who are making the decisions. If we disagree, we have a shared philosophy that we are wrestling with and a far better chance at resolution.


A new beginning

What would King do? Let this become our new mantra this year — the first new year of the 5,000-year cycle of the Mayan/Olmec long count, the 151st year since emancipation from slavery and the first Black History Month (in February) in the first year of the reelection of an African-American president.

It doesn’t matter what side of the political or social spectrum you start on, you understand that “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” and that “the ark of the moral universe always bend toward justice.”

What would King do? It may not get you a specific answer, but if you eliminate the things he would not have done, whatever is left is probably better than what we have now. At the very least, it is a question we all understand.


CHARLIE JAMES has been an African-American-community activist for more than 35 years. He is co-founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. County Institute ( To comment on this column, write to

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