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17th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Breakfast Celebration; Annual Celebration at The Maltz Museum; Rock Hall Celebration of MLK

Monday, January 16th, was Martin Luther King, Jr. day and we attended three events that celebrated his life and legacy.

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The first event started at 7:30am and took place at the DoubleTree by Hilton (Downtown Cleveland). It was the 17th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Breakfast Celebration and this year's theme was "What Are You Doing for Others?"

Indeed our friend, Ms. Yvonne Pointer, the person honored with this year's "In the Footsteps of Dr. King Award", has certainly done a lot to help people in Cleveland, the United States and all over the world. Ms. Pointer gave an inspiring speech that encouraged us all to question conditions that do not seem right to us and work to constructively change things.

Another party that has made a difference in the lives of many is the Ginn Academy, the "Community Donation Recipient",  which is Ohio's only all-male public academy and, according to the program notes, subscribes a philosophy which is, "education is not confined to the classroom and that it is important to educate the whole child through experience and exposure, which leads to empowerment. It's founder, Mr. Theodore Ginn, Sr. spoke for a moment and said that Ginn Academy follows the path of Dr. King by teaching peace, justice, equality and nonviolence and that it aims to cultivate young people to be leaders in the next century.

When we first arrived we were greeted by two young men, Mr. Jordan Parker and Mr. Hasir McMillian, who help others by volunteering at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and thus were encouraging attendees to wear pins and ribbons signifying their resolve to not condoning violence against women and children.

During the program we shared a table with Ms. Carolyn Speed, who helped others by being a teacher for 36 years in the Cleveland Public Schools, 28 of which were spent at Collinwood High School. We told her that we worked for Margaret W. Wong and Associates and we she mentioned that she had taught some foreign-born students over the years who came from such places as China and Africa. She told us of a Chinese student who brought a Chinese/English dictionary to class each day for assistance when a word came up that he was unfamiliar with; years later, after he graduated from college, this student paid a visit to Collinwood High School to thank Ms. Speed and others for their support at a time when he needed it.

Several of the other speeches that were given on this occasion were marked with concern over what the incoming Trump administration might do to reverse progress on civil rights and, along these lines, how a successful challenge to prospective Trump policies could be created.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown delivered the event's opening remarks in which he said that "progress comes in small bursts, and then we spend years and decades trying to stop the forces that hope to drag us backwards." He talked about the very positive work that President Obama's mentoring program, "My Brother's Keeper" has done and how important it is that it be continued. He concluded by endorsing what his good friend, Congressman John Lewis said about there being a time and a place to stand up and create "necessary trouble" (nonviolently) when injustices are occurring. "Now is the time for activism," said U.S. Senator Brown, "now is the time for getting in the way, for not accepting the status quo. Now is the time for good, necessary trouble."

Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley acknowledged that the future is "uncertain" but we have a "proud past" to look to for guidance and recalled Dr. King's positive impact on Cleveland (where he spoke several times) along with the distinguished tenures of both Mayor Carl Stokes and U.S. Congressman Louis Stokes. Council President Kelley urged us to heed First Lady Michelle Obama's words when she said that "when they go low, we must remain high."

Likewise Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson of Toledo, our keynote speaker, said that we cannot wait for a Superman or a Wonder Woman to save us, but we must re-dedicate ourselves to the service of others and continue to carry on Dr. King's legacy because there is a lot of work still to be done. What she, herself, plans to do is to study African American history along with the history of the United States as a whole; study the issues faced by our communities, our country and our planet; contact our elected officials at all levels regarding important issues; not to give into fear and reach out to others who may have a different ethnicity or political point of view than our own; act out of love instead of hate and encourage people to share their stories because who we are is very important.

Our next event was the annual celebration at the Maltz Museum in Beachwood which was presented with the support of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. Ms. Jill Miller Zimon, Vice Chair of the Committee, spoke for a moment and said that it was important that the strong relationship between the Jewish and the African American communities be continued and considered it a privilege to play a part in putting on this program. 

We arrived just before noon because we wanted to hear the Evelyn Wright Quartet perform and we had a wonderful, informative time listening to Ms. Wright (who sang), Mr. Daris Adkins (who played the guitar), Mr. George Lee (who played the acoustical bass) and Mr. Joe Hunter (who played the keyboard) for an hour although the time seemed shorter. What really made it special is that Ms. Wright and Mr. Hunter explained the history of the pieces of the music that they played and of the artists who made them famous.

For instance, "Black Water Blues" made famous by Ms. Bessie Smith was inspired by the Mississippi flood of 1927 which left at least 60,000 people homeless. Likewise, "Kansas City, Here I Come" concerned the early 20th Century mass migration of African Americans who left the South to travel to the Northern part of the U.S. where conditions would be somewhat better.

The quartet also played "Nature Boy" and "Route 66" made famous by Mr. Nat King Cole; Mr. Duke Ellington's signature song, "Take the A Train"; and concluded with Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" 

Along the way, "Stormy Weather" was played and we learned that Ms. Lena Horne, who made it popular, refused to perform for segregated audiences when entertaining our troups during WWII and also took issue with the practice of seating German POW's in front of our own African American soldiers; acts which took great courage at the time.

The last event that we attended was the Rock Hall celebration where various groups performed on the Klipsch Audio Main Stage throughout the day and several programs took place in the Foster Theatre on the 4th Floor such as "Ladies First: Women in Hip-Hop"; "Cleveland is the City" which documented the history of soul, rhythm and blues music in Cleveland; and two screenings of the Academy Award-winning film, "Selma" which concerned the work of MLK back in the mid-1960's.

We arrived too late for these early programs but we sat in on most of a very good one titled "Rock and Roll of the Civil Rights Movement" in which Ms. Mandy Smith, Rock Hall Education Program Manager, made skillful use of slides, music, and her own passion to explore how music and the civil rights movement influenced each other.

Among the artists discussed were Ms. Mahalia Jackson, Mr. Sam Cooke, Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, and Mr. Bob Dylan.

What was especially powerful was the playing of Mr. Dylan's chilling song, "The Death of Emmett Till" which concerning the brutal murder of a young African American teenager. Included in the lyrics were:

"Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up.

They said they had a reason, but I can't remember what.

They tortured him and did some things too evil to repeat.

There was screaming sounds inside the barn, there was laughing sounds on the street."

On the more upbeat side of the spectrum, Ms. Smith presented a slide that contained a newspaper column written by Mr. Same Cooke that made us feel good because it reflected his integrity. It read in part, "I have always detested people of any color, religion, or nationality, who have lacked courage to stand up and be counted. As a Negro, I have-even in the days before I began to achieve some sort of recognition as a performer-refused jobs which I consider debasing or degrading. It is a difficult thing to do, but I believe even unknown Negro performers who desperately need a job, must turn their back on some jobs for the same reasons..."

The presentation concluded with the following quote from Dr. King in praise of African-American DJ's, "...you have paved the way for social and political change by creating a powerful, cultural bridge between black and white."

 

By:

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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