What does it mean to be “first?” Is being “first” about getting the most for oneself, or are there other powerful ways of leading that enhance the collective good? It is a short step from these timely questions to the feet of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his sermon and self-eulogy, The Drum Major Instinct, Dr. King offered Atlantans and citizens of the world a clear model of leadership, of how being “first” can include rather than exclude, uplift rather than strike down. His funeral and public procession on April 9, 1968 was attended by a quarter of a million people and made manifest crucial principles of his legacy. Fifty years later, this country finds itself in need of a provocation which will reignite the challenges he outlined for us. The Drum Major Project was a city-wide participatory art work that culminated in a public procession retracing the steps of Dr. King’s funeral procession on the 50th anniversary of the event, inviting us to consider how we live the legacy of the past while facing the future.
Over the course of this 14 month-long project, nearly two thousand people took part in community art-and-dialogue workshops that were the foundation of the Drum Major Project.
Gathering together to create wreaths, armbands and signs, participants were guided on a reflective discussion about areas of their own communities that they would like to improve, and ways in which they individually had the power to effect that change. Each person wrote a personal commitment toward achieving that goal on the physical object they created. These commitments, written on wreaths, armbands and signs, were carried or worn in the procession on April 9th, 2018. The design of these objects was modeled upon artefacts created by individuals and communities for Dr. King’s funeral in 1968. Through the Drum Major Project, people gathered together to reflect, grieve, and celebrate our past and present in the hopes of nurturing, in some small way, the “Beloved Community” of the future.