• The Courage of MLK — A Celebration by Jamaica Kincaid
  • Charla Jones
  • courage of Martin Luther KingInspirationJamaica KincaidMartin Luther KingMLK
The Courage of MLK — A Celebration by Jamaica Kincaid
Jamaica Kincaid on the Courage of MLK: photo by Eu2Be Founder Charla Jones

Essayist, novelist, gardener and Harvard professor Jamaica Kincaid agreed over dinner one evening to write about courage, in celebration of Martin Luther King. Thank you Jamaica. You are inspiring, generous and courageous. — Charla 


Just to say the word itself brings to mind someone who has done something that is regarded as difficult certainly, and unimaginable because it has never been done by anyone before, it threatens their very existence.

Courage, to have it, to embrace it, is so grand that we quickly domesticate it and make it everyday: we tell a child to be courageous and sleep in a dark room all alone and not be afraid of the emptiness that cannot be seen, the silence that sometimes is only sleep itself; we say it took courage to leave a perfectly good job that we somehow no longer find fulfilling and go and do something else that we imagine will bring us true happiness; and all this might be so, all this might be courage, for certainly a child coming face to face with the darkness that is childhood and surviving it and not losing her mind is courageous.

But, it seems to me, real Courage has a capital C, it is something big and grand and it is not known in a present form, it is only known looking at it afterwards, after the thing it is associated with begins to recede into memory and then looking back at it, we do so with awe.

The courageous person and the courageous deed are not known to each other, they are not destined to meet.

Deed and Person, Person and Deed may pass each other in the day or in the night and have no clue that they could share a destiny. But from time to time they do meet, and unknown to each other, they become one: ordinary in everyday human existence, the person becomes extraordinary in taking an action, in performing a deed that needed performing, and so Deed and person become one, creating that thing called Courage.

The courageous person does not know that she is Courageous. Caught up in immediate events, trying hard to survive the events that has given rise in her to act with courage, she is not aware that her actions are extraordinary; she is aware that she is in danger, she is aware of fear, she might even be aware of her own demise and erasure from human memory, but she is unable to do anything, except to take those actions which later, after the crisis has passed, will lead others to regard her as courageous.

She will feel that she was without choice, that there was no other way open to her but to take those actions that are judged in the aftermath as courageous. In looking back, for her, there was no other way.

We, who are not she, know this to be not correct, because we, ourselves, are evidence of this other way, we could not do what she has done, we did not meet the courageous person in our own selves and so our own selves could not then have found the deed

Courage is not an attribute of Power. It is in the face of Power that Courage becomes needed.

Power waxes and wanes: it waxes when Courage is absent, it wanes when Courage exists, it almost vanishes when Courage exists in abundance.

Today is a Day when we remember a man who exemplifies Courage and who for a short time in his life was the embodiment of that noble idea. We remember him with love and are deeply grateful for the love he showed for us and gave to us.

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Jamaica Kincaid photo by Russell MacMasters

Many thanks to Jamaica Kincaid, essayist, novelist, gardener and Harvard professor. Photo: Russell MacMasters

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  • Charla Jones
  • courage of Martin Luther KingInspirationJamaica KincaidMartin Luther KingMLK

Reader Comments ( 3 )

  • Jan 18, 2016

    Courage and Power. So much here to think about, a real gift on Martin Luther King Day, wrapped in such stunning writing. Thank you!

    — Michele Dorsey

  • Jan 25, 2014

    Yes, taking time to pause, think about the needs of those around me will help me to expand my world and will give me more chances to be courageous. Thanks for those words from Jamaica Kincaid.

    After reading these inspiring words, then putting on that oil, I’m not kidding, as I put the oil on my face from eu2be, I find myself subconsciously thinking about the words from here—true beauty, courage and the oil is like an anointing—reminding me of my true blessings. Thank you!

    — Virginia

  • Jan 23, 2014

    Beautiful and profound. I’ll strive to have an ounce or two of more courage today having read Jamacia’s words. Also I’ll try to pause to hear someone else’s needs, not just my own.
    Thank you!

    — Ken Mitchell

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