Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Day: Looking Back, Moving Forward

So today was Martin Luther King Day. I don’t really like holidays, they interfere with my normal life. I am an Ordinary Time type guy! However, I really do like MLK Day.

I grew up in a family and a neighborhood that had very little respect for Civil Rights or diversity. I am only different (so are they now) because of a young child’s assumption. I remember watching Dr. King on television. I had never seen so many African-Americans in my life. My neighborhood was poor but all white. I didn’t know what to make of this guy. Then my hero started talking, Walter Cronkite. My friends had different heroes, Johnny Unitas, Willy Mays, I had Walter. Looking back I am amazed I didn’t get beat up!

Anyway, Walter seemed to treat Dr. King with respect. I thought Walter was the smartest man on the planet, he explained the space program to me. So if Walter liked Rev. King than so did I. It was the beginning of my interest with diversity and it was all based on a little assumption.

I know we have a long way to go before we ever achieve Dr. King’s dream. I also know we have journeyed a long way over the years. The Church really is a Universal Church. The counties with the greatest growth in church membership are in South America, Africa and Asia. There are very few of us fair haired folks there! Growing up I remember Christians that had a hard time with integration. Now I receive the Eucharist from a priest from Africa, I make confession to a priest from India and I seek out the blessing of both. Inequality and hatred are easy to find but change is also easy to spot when you don’t take it for granted.

So today the university celebrated MLK Day. We started with a Mass. The music and the homily were both inspiring. Then we had a celebration of the arts. The celebration covered the life span. We had Apollo Theater Living Legend, Mr. Al Stiles and we had the Shee Kristyle Dancers who ranged from preschoolers to high schoolers. It was great.

Mr. Stiles was walking, talking, singing and dancing history right before our eyes. If I go look at my CDs and records he has worked with many of the folks I listen to. Mr. Stiles has worked with: Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, Gregory Hines and Josephine Baker. He sings, he dances and he inspires.

Mr. Stiles has done it all. He was part of the Jazz scene of the 1930s and 40s. He played in New York, Chicago, L.A. and Vegas. He played the clubs, including the Apollo and the Cotton Club. He danced, sang, did radio, appeared in movies and recorded. He also entertained troops when he served in the Army.

However, that was not all there was to this incredible man. He also started the first black radio station. He was a union man who became president of a union. He started his own business. He was a husband and a father.

Mr. Stiles is an inspirational speaker. He developed a talk on “The Daring Person”. He lists 21 attributes of a daring Person. A few of these attributes include:
Dares to do something for the first time
Believes in his final success
Acts in spite of any timidity he may have
Never surrenders his individuality

Mr. Stiles had his family with him. It was clear they loved and respected him, how could they not.

The next performance was from the dancers. The young ones were cute, the older ones polished and talented and all were disciplined and appeared to enjoy what they were doing.

The show was organized by Drs. Ann Hernandez and Matt Smith, they really out did themselves this year!

MLK Day is not a day off, it is a day on. That means staff, faculty and students joined together in volunteering their services to the community. This year that included volunteering at: The Center for Non-violence, Love Community Center, Vincent House, Children’s Hope Hospitality House, St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Store, Lutheran Hospital Children’s Wing and the Boys and Girls Club.

It was a great day of remembrance of a great life, of witnessing a great life, of seeing new talents develop and of giving back to our communities. So thank you Dr. King, Walter Cronkite, Al Stiles, Matt Smith and Ann Hernandez!

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