By Naeisha Rose
Sunday marks the third commemoration of Martin Luther King’s Day at Queens College’s Kupferberg Center for the Arts in Flushing. For honoree Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake, keynote speaker Cheryl Wills and dancer Lindsey Croop, celebrate the civil rights leader’s life is personal.
“I had the opportunity to meet Dr. King several times,” Flake said. “When I went to Wilberforce University, I was a driver of his when he went there to do a commencement. So he’s in my heart, he’s in my soul and he’s in my spirit.”
Flake’s selection stems from his “work in the community and career, which has been dedicated to African-American history and issues that are still current,” said Julia del Palacio, the center’s strategic partnership director.
“I grew up in Houston, Texas during the Martin Luther King era and I’ve been to the bus rides and the walk-ins. So without Martin Luther King, I don’t know if I or any of us would be where we are today,” Flake said.
NY1 anchor, producer and author Cheryl Wills shares the same sentiments about the nonviolent activist.
“Martin Luther King is one of my heroes and it means so much to me,” Wills said. “I would not be a journalist if it was not for Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King represents equality and the struggle for equality.”
She also draws inspiration from her family for her success.
“She is a very accomplished journalist … and she comes from a family that has excelled in civil and military life,” Palacio said.
Wills described her family’s legacy.
“My father integrated a fire house in New York City, Engine 1. His name was Clarence Wills. He died when I was a kid and I’m very proud of him because he did a lot in his own right to further equality…and he served in Vietnam as a paratrooper. “
While her father not have to face segregation during the Vietnam War, a different ancestor of hers did.
“My great great great grandfather Sandy Wills fought in the Civil War in the United States colored troops, and I plan to integrate a part of his incredible story in my remarks. And the 200,000 soldiers of color who fought during the Civil War helped end slavery,” said Wills, who has been an anchor for NY1 for 25 years. “It’s a time of reflection and appreciation for all of the wonderful things we enjoy today.”
Lindsey Croop, a dancer with the Dance Theater of Harlem, believes that she would not be today doing what she loves if it was not for the Baptist minister’s words of unity.
“I’m biracial, so I think for me he represents my existence,” Croop said. “Growing up, with my dad being black and my mom being white, when I heard his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and he said could you imagine people together no matter what color, I was like, ‘Wow, this is my family, these are my parents,’” the dancer said.
Six years after that speech interracial marriage was legalized in 1969 and another 15 years later Croops’ parents married.
One of the pieces that the Dance Theater of Harlem will be performing is “Equilibrium Brotherhood.”
“The piece’s concept is of brotherhood and being there for your fellow man, recognizing your fellow man as an equal,” said Croop, who is on her fifth season with the theater. “Martin Luther King was a visionary man and dancing in his honor is going to be really special.”