By Patrick Donachie
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and direction is as pertinent as ever, elected officials said during a celebration of King’s life held at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center Monday afternoon.
The event, presented by Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), volleyed between artistic expressions of song, dance and poetry with politicians pledging to fight what they maintained would be the corrosive effects of Donald Trump’s forthcoming presidency.
“The memory of Dr. King is far more important today than it’s been in a long time,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said near the presentation’s opening. “He knew that God rewards the righteous, and if we are righteous, we will win.”
Schumer noted Dr. King’s birthday marks the only time that the country celebrates one individual person throughout the entire year, and read passages from King’s seminal “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” while excoriating the president-elect for his role in the ‘birther’ movement, which questioned the birthplace of President Barack Obama.
“He shamefully questioned President Obama’s birth certificate,” Schumer said. “We know what that was about.”
Most of the speakers attempted to parse how Dr. King’s words and actions could sustain committed opponents to Trump on the week before his inauguration. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), the event’s keynote speaker, pointed to congressional Republicans’ unsuccessful attempt a few weeks prior to gut the funding for the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent government watchdog.
“The public revolted, and they realized they couldn’t do what they wanted against the will of the public,” Meeks said. “That gives us a hint of what we need to do. Our voices need to be there like never before.”
The event also included tap performances and dances from members of the Edge School of the Arts, as well as a solo dance performance by Natalie Maddrey soundtracked by Beyonce’s “Freedom” and a saxophone performance of “Life Every Voice and Sing” by Ashley Chambers.
Poet Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie performed two selections during the event, and spoke briefly about her work and her views on King’s legacy. She referred to a quote by famed author James Baldwin, who said that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
In introducing her poem “Global Warming Blues,” which concerned the effects of Hurricane Sandy, she spoke about how her generation had been inspired by their forebears in the Civil Rights Movement, hopeful in their desire and ability to enact significant change.
“You can’t change a hurricane,” she said. “You understand the power of bearing witness, and you understand the power of the blues.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona