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.

Listen & Learn

Simply Civics is back! This past fall, I started a new job (which I love!) and after spending a few months learning the ropes, I’m now ready to dive back into Simply Civics.

That said, I have been grappling with what Simply Civics should be now. There’s a different political context in place since I last wrote here. In response to the new political realities, we’ve seen a surge of activism. There are a ton of bloggers and specialists writing about activism, and I support their incredible work.

Consequently, I’m going to leave that to the people who know best. I think my role is going to be more about figuring out where civic engagement falls into all of this. What does civic engagement mean to us, and which ways can we each best contribute to our local communities?

Things like: how to run for local office or campaign for people whose ideas you support, how to decipher and track the issues that most impact you and your neighbors, when to attend local events that promote civic and productive dialogue, how to track your legislators’ work, which community organizations to support with your time, effort, and if applicable, financial resources, and how do the types of news we subscribe to affect how we think and act.

The goal for Simply Civics is to provide opportunities for individuals to engage in meaningful ways in their communities. You may have different interests, schedules, passions, priorities, and talents than I do. In fact, you probably do. Simply Civics is really about finding the ways you can best contribute to your community. I believe in this, in you, and in our capacity to build thriving, inclusive, civic-minded communities.

Ready?

There is one thing that I think each of us can do, no matter who we are, and I’m going to use my return post to explore this idea.

How can we be civic on a daily basis?

Listen to others.

It sounds corny, right? I don’t just mean to listen when someone is talking to you. We learned that with our “please” and “thank you.”

What I mean is: let’s actively seek out opportunities to listen. Ask about people’s experiences. Then listen. Think about how people’s experiences shape their views of their community — local and national. In order to create communities where everyone can thrive and feel included, we must listen.

I have been thinking a lot about the idea of allyship, of being an ally to others. I know that not everyone agrees with the term allyship, but for me it means intentional, authentic solidarity. Actual solidarity, not just superficial solidarity.

Code Switch

One of my favorite podcasts is NPR’s Code Switch: Race and Identity, Remixed. Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby, the hosts of the podcast, are two of my idols. They shed light on racial issues in everyday life in the most poignant, forward-thinking, and inclusive manner.

A couple weeks ago during my commute, I listened to an episode called, “Safety-Pin Solidarity: With Allies, Who Benefits?

I don’t want to give much away, because I highly encourage you listen to it. But one of my key takeaways was the notion that being an ally is not an identity, it’s a relationship.

Since through civic engagement, we build connection in our communities, I think it’s important to be incredibly aware of the relationships we build. When we are intentional about reaching out to people with different experiences than our own, to hear them out, we grow in our understanding of the complex challenges and strengths of our communities.

Safety Pin Box

I’ve been trying to educate myself about authentic allyship, and I’ve come across some really fascinating organizations and writers on the topic that I am excited to share.

First, in the same Code Switch episode, Shareen Marisol Meraji interviews Leslie Mac, the co-founder of Safety Pin Box. The Safety Pin Box is a subscription service designed to guide ally-ship to achieve racial justice. The website explains the process this way:

“Black women receive financial support. White people work to end white supremacy. Black people guide white ally work. White people learn to redirect resources and do racial justice personal development. All of this and more, every single month.”

Each month, subscribers receive a box with 3 guided ally tasks to complete within the month to jumpstart their active participation in the fight against structural injustice.

Safety Pin Box is a for-profit company, and the subscription fees go towards supporting black female activists. It seems like a really creative and tangible way to simultaneously support leaders of color and learn about racial justice.

Everyday Allyship

In addition to learning how to be an ally to people of color, I’ve also been thinking about other types of allyship.

I want to be more intentional about supporting businesses and media that are inclusive of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identification, language, or religion.

How can I personally be a better ally to: the LGBTQ community, immigrants and refugees, the members of my community who are English language learners, and to those who practice different faiths than my own?

This seems to be a really vast question, but the answers to it really, truly matter. I am challenging myself to be honest as I ask these and other questions about allyship, and open and responsive to the answers. I hope you’ll join me and the many others who are committed to learning about and living in authentic solidarity.

Never Stop Learning

If you’re also interested in learning more about allyship, here are some other resources:

There are a ton more; this isn’t even close to an exhaustive list. With that said, if you know of other good places to start, please share them with me via the Contact Me page so I can post about them. Thank you in advance!

To sum it all up, let’s: learn courageously, listen authentically, think boldly, and act civically.

I feel optimistic about the future of civic engagement in our communities.