MLK Day Celebration

Honoring Two Giants: MLK Day in Brookline

On January 15, my League of Women Voters friends and I stood at our voter registration table at the Coolidge Corner Theater, welcoming folks and passing out literature. I was excited to participate again this year in Brookline’s celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and for the speaking program to begin.

Fierce Urgency of Now

The theme this year was the “Fierce Urgency of Now,” calling back to Dr. King’s words during the 1963 March on Washington. One year into the Trump Administration, these words struck me with their full honesty:

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action. – MLK, 1963

Brookline’s celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was incredible, maybe even better than last year. Selectmember Bernard Greene opened up the event by welcoming everyone and setting an austere tone, emphasizing the importance of dialogues about racial justice in a time like today.

The notes of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” rang through the theatre, and with Zvi A. Sesling’s words, we were ready for a journey through Regie Gibson‘s rhythmic mind.

confrontation & Transcendence

I’ve seen Regie perform before; each time left me speechless. He is a poet and an educator, with a mastery of language, a strong stage presence, and most of all, a message to share. He spoke of MLK’s ability to transcend. Dr. King knew how to organize people of color and challenge white people, to truly transcend the status quo and confront racism head-on.

Following Regie, the Brookline High School Testostatones performed two songs: A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke and Shed a Little Light by James Taylor. Then, Brookline High School student Carolyn Parker-Fairbain performed a poem, Heresy. She performed with confidence and authenticity.

the radical king

Chad Williams, a professor at Brandeis University, offered the keynote address about the “Radical” King. Professor Williams called out the white-washing of MLK’s legacy. We need to reeducate ourselves about the real Martin Luther King, Jr., and the ideas he really, truly promoted, radical as they were. When we know what MLK actually preached and fought for, we will have better tools and more precise language to respond to what’s happening today.

Professor Williams asked who was ready to resist the white-washing of MLK, and take up his fight today. Slowly, we all began to stand up. Sitting in the back row of the theater, I was floored by the calm standing ovation in front of me. My feelings of inadequacy and smallness melted off of me, as I looked around the room, fueled by the radical determination in my neighbors’ eyes, the resilience in their postures.

My heart burning from Professor Williams’ words, I was wondering why they had anything else on the program. Now, I am so glad that the afternoon didn’t end there.

Commemorating John Wilson

Rob Daves came out onto the stage to share with us how we can honor MLK, by keeping the civil rights giant front and center in our town’s work. In particular, he pointed to art. Art can shape our actions in profound ways, especially in civic spaces.

John Wilson, an esteemed African-American sculptor, lived in Brookline for 50 years. He is best remembered for his sculptures of MLK.

As the Museum of Fine Art’s website describes, Wilson used “shapes, lines, and colors like Dr. King used words, to change how people looked at others who were different from them.” He didn’t sculpt Dr. King as the man. Rather, he sculpted him as everything his work and legacy embodied: vision, strength, and justice. When Wilson created a bronze bust of MLK for the U.S. Capitol Building Rotunda in Washington DC in 1985, it was the first representation of a African American in the space.

When Wilson passed away in 2015, his artwork lived on in major museums across the United States. Still today, though, none of his work is on display in his hometown.

The Committee to Commemorate John Wilson found this unacceptable. During Town Meeting this fall, the Committee proposed purchasing one of John Wilson’s MLK sculptures for Town Hall, for all residents to see. The Town aims to purchase a 30-inch sculpture of Dr. King, crafted by Wilson. It will be mounted on a 50-inch white pedestal in the Town Hall first floor lobby, for everyone who stops by, say, for a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing, to register to vote, to attend a public health class, or to provide input on the 9th school search project. The Committee just needs to secure the funding to do so, and the Town has agreed to install and protect the artwork.

If you think Brookline should commemorate this brilliant artist and the Radical King, consider making a tax-deductible donation to the John Wilson MLK Fund. Here are the exact directions from the Committee’s pamphlet:

To give online
give.brooklinecommunity.org/JohnWilsonMLK
To give by mail
Send a check made out to “Brookline Community Foundation” with “John Wilson/MLK” on the memo line and mail to Brookline Community Foundation, 40 Webster Place, Brookline, MA 02445
For more information
Rob Daves at robdaves@rcn.com
Mac Dewart at murraydewart@gmail.com

To read more about this endeavor and John Wilson’s work, check out these articles:

I can’t wait until the day when Town Hall visitors feel the emotional stir of Wilson’s work. Imagine how our public dialogue will be transformed when MLK’s likeness inspires each public meeting. It’s a great way to honor a gifted artist from our community, while confronting injustice in our own neighborhoods. When we come together for something as important as this, we show what our priorities truly are.

Thank you to the Committee to Commemorate John Wilson, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee, the Brookline Office of Diversity, Inclusion & Community Relations, and all the performers and leaders who fill us with urgency and strengthen our community. Thank you for honoring MLK with your work each and every day, not just on a Monday in January.

July 4th Reflections

Simply Civics July 4th

I look forward to July 4th weekend each year. This year, I spent a lot of the weekend outside on the South Shore with friends: breathing in the fresh air, grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, seeing the American flag fly boldly in the breeze, and at the end of each day, watching in awe as the sun set on the water. I loved spending quality time with my friends and enjoying what makes summertime so magical.

Monday Night

Back in Brookline on Monday evening, I paused to reflect on my weekend. I perused through my Facebook feed and Twitter, and I was deeply moved by how many people had taken the time to post excerpts from the Declaration of Independence.

One of my friends in particular took a creative approach. He wrote the first line of the Declaration of Independence as his status, and then invited his friends to add each consecutive line of the document as comments. Together, they were rebuilding the document. I read each comment, allowing each revolutionary line to ruminate in my mind.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…”

At 10:15PM, after reading through these posts, I left my apartment and walked towards Corey Hill on Summit Ave. I had read in the Brookline TAB that the Boston Esplanade fireworks were visible from Corey Hill Park and Larz Anderson Park, and decided to see how Brookline celebrates the 4th.

Fireworks

I expected to see a small crowd at Corey Hill Park.

Instead, the hill was packed with community members of all ages. I couldn’t quite tell where to stand. I stumbled through the grass in the darkness, trying to avoid tripping on tree roots. A few minutes after 10:30, I noticed everyone shifting to the left side of the park, and I thought maybe they were packing up to leave. In effect, I resigned to the idea that perhaps I had missed the whole show. Next year, I’ll leave my apartment a little earlier and maybe even picnic on the grass.

But I walked towards the crowd and turned towards the Boston city skyline. As my eyes rested on the bright sky, I smiled. Through the trees, we could indeed see the whole show. It was breathtaking.

I stood there, captivated by the energy of the community around me. It was amazing. Many Brookliners ventured up a hill to a park on Monday night to watch the Boston fireworks in between trees. July 4th truly is a special tradition.

240th Birthday

July 4th fireworks carry so much meaning. Two hundred and forty years since the Declaration of Independence, we continue to celebrate. Each year, we gather with our friends, family, and community to reflect on what unites us. Through our celebrations, we renew our dedication to democracy.

“It’s the finale!” I heard a woman nearby say. People were clapping, amazed by the incredible show.

I looked around Corey Hill Park, thankful for the tradition that brings us together as a community. There has been a lot of troubling news around the world, near and far. To pave the way for our brighter future, I think we should reflect on the vision that first brought us together as a country.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thank you to the many diverse communities of Americans who have carried the torch of liberty and pursued these truths through challenging times. Thank you in advance to those who will carry the torch into the future.

Happy Independence Day to you and your loved ones.

Happy birthday, America, and I hope this next year is one of freedom, peace, and unity.