Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Dinner with Danny Glover and more, much more.

On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence” in New York City.

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

We have all heard his speech “I Have A Dream” many times, but how many of you are aware of this lesser known speech? Here is the complete speech. It’s lengthy, but still remains relevant forty years later.

While Dr. King was, of course, a supporter of equal rights, he was also in staunch opposition to the Vietnam War. Yet, it was not just the war that he was opposed to. What he brought to light in ‘Break the Silence’ speech were the inequities between how blacks were being treated here in their own country and in Vietnam fighting for this country.

“It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”

“To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I'm speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men -- for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?”

Felix Justice delivering a dramatic version of King’s speech.

Friday night, I attended An Evening with Danny Glover and Felix Justice in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. So technically I had dinner with Danny Glover, but there were also about 500 others in the room.

The dinner and performance was sponsored by the local chapter of the NAACP. The energy in the room was palpable. The audience was diverse in age and race. There was much talk and excitement about the inauguration. The president of the university was introduced. He is a much loved black man. He is our local Obama.

After Justice’s composite of King’s speech, Glover delivered some of Langston Hughes’ poetry.

Progress has definitely been made. The proof is Obama. But we shouldn't wait for him to make change. We can certainly make change without him and we have. Nice to have a leader that inspires it though.

Glover also told us about Hughes’ cartoon character, Jesse B Semple which takes the very serious subject of racism and allows us to laugh, poking fun at liberals who talk (or in this case, blog) about issues of racism, but never really do anything.

After the performances was a Q and A session. Our University President asked the first question, wanting to know their impressions of the Obama Inauguration.

"I was very impressed with his kindliness and concern for the 'least of these,' as I was for your Governor Stevenson, I thought he was a kindly man too," Justice answered. Bowman quipped “I got nervous when you said ‘Governor’” (I am in Illinois. Perhaps you’ve heard of our now famous Governor Blagojevich.)

Glover answered by sharing a story about his 5-year-old grandson who began crying on November 4 because he could not vote.

"To see the picture of him as he was riveted to the screen on Inauguration Day, this is a child who loves everything from Spiderman to all the other graphic novels..." Glover said.

"He's riveted to that television, listening and watching, watching not only a new presidency, but the kind of visual language that happens when you see an audience that understands something special is happening."

Then came the time for audience members to ask questions. I always hope for intelligent questions by those who make it to the microphone. I always hope that the honored guests will remember us well. Yet brave and intelligent don’t always go together. What irks me even more is when someone says “I think I speak for us all when….” Think again.

My dinner companion was my friend, Lisa who is a middle school teacher. She said that since the election and the inauguration, she has seen a difference in her African –American students. They are standing taller, becoming more involved, exuding more confidence.

That is a change I can believe in.