New York State A Beacon for Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday by Dennis Day

It seems that some states and many local municipalities have been anemic in progress to fully embrace Dr. Martin Luther King Day with zeal and exuberance afforded other national holiday observances.  New York State, however, has been a leader in helping to define and possibly create the cultural context and template for the King Day commemoration.

Credit for this development should be rightfully attributed to the George E. Pataki Administration, who  since 1997 has embraced implementing a program honoring Dr. King’s legacy designed to encourage community-based initiatives through volunteerism, charity, the arts, and community uplift aimed at assisting those regarded as the least among us.In Albany, hub of the State’s official celebration an early keynote speaker for the King Memorial Observance was the Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, founder and president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a member of Dr. King’s inner circle.In recent years, keynote speakers have included prominent New York leaders, including former  U.S. Congressman Reverend Floyd E. Flake and the Reverend Calvin O. Butts III. Each year the observance is celebrated  in multiple venues featuring renowned gospel artists, celebrities, and  mass choirs that help make the event  a statewide celebration energized by communities now extended to all 62 counties.

It took 15 years to create the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Congressman John Conyers (D – Michigan) first introduced legislation for a commemorative holiday four days after King was assassinated in 1968. After the bill became stalled, petitions endorsing the holiday containing six million names were submitted to Congress. Conyers and New York representative Shirley Chisholm submitted King Holiday legislation each subsequent legislative session. Congress passed the holiday legislation in 1983, and it  was then signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

A compromise, moving the holiday from January 15, King’s birthday, which was considered too close to Christmas and New Years, to the third Monday in January helped to overcome opposition to the law. In 1973 Illinois became the first state to adopt King Day as a state holiday. In 1986 the federal King holiday went into effect. By 1989, the King holiday was adopted in 44 states. They came grudgingly, but eventually they came.

Today the question is: Will governors use their federal mandate to vigorously   promote Dr. King’s holiday and his notion of beloved community, or will they become shrinking violets on the one holiday observance that calls into action our highest ideals? Political rhetoric and speeches about King’s dream ring hollow without acts of goodwill and human kindness espoused by King.  The national King holiday observance provides a rare opportunity to work toward transforming Dr. King’s dream into social reality.

Consensus for King Day was hard won. A number of states resisted celebrating the holiday. Some opponents said King did not deserve his own holiday, contending that the entire Civil Rights Movement, rather than one individual, however instrumental, should be honored. Several southern states include celebrations for various confederate generals on that day, which they call Human Rights Day. Arizona voters approved the holiday in 1992, only after a threatened tourist boycott. In 1999 New Hampshire changed the name of Civil Rights Day to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and became the last state to adopt a state King holiday.

Twenty-two years after I proudly participated in the march on the Mall in Washington D.C., led by Stevie Wonder and Mrs. Coretta Scott King in support of a national holiday for Dr. King, I yet remain optimistic. But I am somewhat confounded that in 2004 some leaders in state government still do not grasp the potential of this holiday, which perhaps more than any other stands to heal, build, and unify our nation.

In 2004 some state municipalities have allowed that this celebration of the human spirit is optional and, for the most part is viewed with a ho-hum attitude. Many of those states that do embrace the holiday seem to confine it to the classroom as a mere  scholastic exercise. For example, California, the nation’s largest state, focuses its King Day observance largely within its public school districts, encouraging a day of reflection on Civil Rights.

In contrast, in New York State King Day emphasizes year long volunteerism, along with cultural, artistic, and community cooperation, which could become a cultural template for the other 49 states to adopt. In 1997 New York State, under the leadership of Governor George E. Pataki, created the Community Service Initiative (CSI) to remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, not just as one day but throughout the year. The King Community Service Initiative urges New Yorkers to strengthen their communities by opening their hearts and extending their hands to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and care for those with debilitating disease and those less fortunate. The common thread linking these activities is reaching beyond conventional social boundaries to promote interracial cooperation.

This year the governor presented the distinguished Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Awards to outstanding individuals who have made profound contributions to their communities and to society at large. More than 1,000 prominent community leaders and dignitaries attended the observance in Albany to participate in a program of spiritual enrichment, musical performances, and award presentations.

The New York model is steeped in diversity. It is not only about racial tolerance, but emphasizes contributions made by all segments of the population to the human family. Governor Pataki has publicly stated “it is our solemn obligation to honor the memory of Dr. King, not just on this day but every day of the year by keeping the dream alive for all New Yorkers.” Award recipients hail from regions throughout the state and includ youth, adults, and seniors who contribute their time and talent to benefit others. Sponsored by the State University of New York, this year’s observance was broadcast live and available on cable public access channels in most regions and in the five boroughs of New York City, airing on Channel 25 WNYE TV.

The growing involvement of individuals, organizations, schools, churches, and community groups in the statewide celebration demonstrates how far we have come corporately in New York State.  Yes, we still have a long way to go, but the Community Service Initiative has gotten the ball rolling. Just how much farther we still must travel to become a nation indivisible by race, class, creed, and gender bias is hard to predict.

No doubt  naysayers would argue that the display on King Day is mere political folly. But that would miss the point. The net result derived from the New York State experience with King Day is a well-thought-out and conceptually sound thematic presentation extolling the highest ideals and principles that Dr. King left as his legacy. New York State’s experience with King Day, at least in theory, is that Dr. King’s Day warrants deeper personal reflection and recommitment to action by each person toward the goal of fulfilling the American ideals Dr. King lived, taught, and preached. The initiative  has established a statewide narrative that firmly sets the course for future King Day celebrations. Governor Pataki stated,“Dr. King’s memory will always live long in our hearts with eternal appreciation for his work as a man with great respect for all mankind.”

Irrespective of whatever controversial political choices Governor E. Pataki has made during his tenure, it seems clear that the King Memorial Day observances in New York State will continue to provide a beacon of hope to other States offering a sterling example of what state governments can do to ensure that Dr. King’s dream becomes a practical living reality under one nation, undivided with liberty and justice for all!Govern George E. Pataki and Dennis Day

New York State A Beacon for Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day- by Dennis Day

(This article was written by me in 2004 and appeared on my website: http://www.daymedia.com)Image

It seems that some states and many local municipalities have been loath to fully embrace Dr. Martin Luther King Day with zeal and exuberance afforded other national holiday observances.  New York State, however, has been a leader in helping to define the cultural context and spirit of the King Day commemoration.

Credit for this development should be rightfully attributed to the George E. Pataki Administration, which for the past seven years has implemented a program designed to encourage community-based initiatives through volunteerism, charity, the arts, and community uplift aimed at assisting those regarded as the least among us.This year in Albany the keynote speaker for the King Memorial Observance was the Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, founder and president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a member of Dr. King’s inner circle.In recent years, keynote speakers have included prominent New York leaders, including former congressman Reverend Floyd E. Flake and the Reverend Calvin O. Butts III. Each year the observance is framed by gospel artists, celebrities, and choirs that help make the event  a statewide celebration energized by communities now extended to all 62 counties.

It took 15 years to create the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Congressman John Conyers (D – Michigan) first introduced legislation for a commemorative holiday four days after King was assassinated in 1968. After the bill became stalled, petitions endorsing the holiday containing six million names were submitted to Congress. Conyers and New York representative Shirley Chisholm submitted King Holiday legislation each subsequent legislative session. Congress passed the holiday legislation in 1983, and it  was then signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

A compromise, moving the holiday from January 15, King’s birthday, which was considered too close to Christmas and New Years, to the third Monday in January helped to overcome opposition to the law. In 1973 Illinois became the first state to adopt King Day as a state holiday. In 1986 the federal King holiday went into effect. By 1989, the King holiday was adopted in 44 states. They came grudgingly, but eventually they came.

Today the question is: Will governors use their federal mandate to vigorously   promote Dr. King’s holiday and his notion of beloved community, or will they become shrinking violets on the one holiday observance that calls into action our highest ideals? Political rhetoric and speeches about King’s dream ring hollow without acts of goodwill and human kindness espoused by King.  The national King holiday observance provides a rare opportunity to work toward transforming Dr. King’s dream into social reality.

Consensus for King Day was hard won. A number of states resisted celebrating the holiday. Some opponents said King did not deserve his own holiday, contending that the entire Civil Rights Movement, rather than one individual, however instrumental, should be honored. Several southern states include celebrations for various confederate generals on that day, which they call Human Rights Day. Arizona voters approved the holiday in 1992, only after a threatened tourist boycott. In 1999 New Hampshire changed the name of Civil Rights Day to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and became the last state to adopt a state King holiday.

Twenty-two years after I proudly participated in the march on the Mall in Washington D.C., led by Stevie Wonder and Mrs. Coretta Scott King in support of a national holiday for Dr. King, I yet remain optimistic. But I am somewhat confounded that in 2004 some leaders in state government still do not grasp the potential of this holiday, which perhaps more than any other stands to heal, build, and unify our nation.

In 2004 some state municipalities have allowed that this celebration of the human spirit is optional and, for the most part is viewed with a ho-hum attitude. Many of those states that do embrace the holiday seem to confine it to the classroom as a mere  scholastic exercise. For example, California, the nation’s largest state, focuses its King Day observance largely within its public school districts, encouraging a day of reflection on Civil Rights. 

In contrast, in New York State King Day emphasizes year long volunteerism, along with cultural, artistic, and community cooperation, which could become a cultural template for the other 49 states to adopt. In 1997 New York State, under the leadership of Governor George E. Pataki, created the Community Service Initiative (CSI) to remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, not just as one day but throughout the year. The King Community Service Initiative urges New Yorkers to strengthen their communities by opening their hearts and extending their hands to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and care for those with debilitating disease and those less fortunate. The common thread linking these activities is reaching beyond conventional social boundaries to promote interracial cooperation.

This year the governor presented the distinguished Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Awards to outstanding individuals who have made profound contributions to their communities and to society at large. More than 1,000 prominent community leaders and dignitaries attended the observance in Albany to participate in a program of spiritual enrichment, musical performances, and award presentations.

The New York model is steeped in diversity. It is not only about racial tolerance, but emphasizes contributions made by all segments of the population to the human family. Governor Pataki has publicly stated “it is our solemn obligation to honor the memory of Dr. King, not just on this day but every day of the year by keeping the dream alive for all New Yorkers.” Award recipients hail from regions throughout the state and includ youth, adults, and seniors who contribute their time and talent to benefit others. Sponsored by the State University of New York, this year’s observance was broadcast live and available on cable public access channels in most regions and in the five boroughs of New York City, airing on Channel 25 WNYE TV.

The growing involvement of individuals, organizations, schools, churches, and community groups in the statewide celebration demonstrates how far we have come corporately in New York State.  Yes, we still have a long way to go, but the Community Service Initiative has gotten the ball rolling. Just how much farther we still must travel to become a nation indivisible by race, class, creed, and gender bias is hard to predict. 

No doubt  naysayers would argue that the display on King Day is mere political folly. But that would miss the point. The net result derived from the New York State experience with King Day is a well-thought-out and conceptually sound thematic presentation extolling the highest ideals and principles that Dr. King left as his legacy. New York State’s experience with King Day, at least in theory, is that Dr. King’s Day warrants deeper personal reflection and recommitment to action by each person toward the goal of fulfilling the American ideals Dr. King lived, taught, and preached. The initiative  has established a statewide narrative that firmly sets the course for future King Day celebrations. Governor Pataki stated,“Dr. King’s memory will always live long in our hearts with eternal appreciation for his work as a man with great respect for all mankind.”

Irrespective of whatever political choices Governor E. Pataki has made during his tenure, it seems clear that the King Memorial Day observances in New York State will continue to provide a beacon of hope offering a sterling example of what state governments can do to ensure that Dr. King’s dream becomes a practical living reality under one nation, undivided.

 

THE FINAL VERSION: REFLECTIONS ON A PLAY FRAMED IN THE COLD WAR ERA IN AMERICA

I just saw The “Final Version”, a play written by Ishmael Reed, a MacArthur Genius Award recipient recognized for his powerful canon of written works in novels, plays, and essays over several decades. Directed by Rome Neal, who plays the lead role of Lee Ransom, a struggling author whose extraordinary skills as a writer were courted by ‘cold war era’ Communists seeking to expand their party’s base among progressive intellectual black literati and the black masses from roughly a period of nearly three decades from 40s to the volatile 60s Cold War threat.

A sparsely arranged set offers minimal distraction in the intimate setting of this world-renowned venue, allowing the audience to focus on complex historical narratives that offer a rich cornucopia of political intrigue and insider insight into the inner-workings of mega corporate book publishers and the black militant authors they selectively chose to publish during one of the most turbulent eras in world history.

Ransom , a black militant writer of humble origins whose early proletariat writings had won him acclaim abroad among Communist Party ideologues and progressives of the era. He is confronted by his own deep-seated lust for life and materialism and pseudo acceptance into Manhattan’s capitalist bourgeoisie, corporate society. A succession of wives serve as muses, and their character types seem to suggest a deep complexity and ambivalence beneath the character’s pompous erudite demeanor.

A black Harlem blonde wig-wearing vixen, dressed in leopard form fitting skirt, representing the scorned woman laments losing Ransom , her independent minded black freedom fighter, to an attractive, Anglo heiress to a Railroad fortune. Her, failed marriage and un-requited love for Ransom has ostracized her as a traitor to her race and class, now deemed psychotic by family and among the ”blue-blood” Long Island milieu of her social pedigree.

The dialogue at times wavering between lengthy diatribes serves the audience a continuity that would otherwise be difficult to manage given the complexity of Reed’s characters and nuanced subject matter of American race relations, and liberalisms’ progressive fallacies of a Marxist-Leninist utopian state in entrenched battle with feudal systems of caste and class.

As a playwright Ishmael Reed adeptly underscores America’s ever shifting mores around issues of racial miscegenation and how Trotskyites were able to seize America’s intractable race repression of a black under-class as propagandistic fodder for advancing communist ideology until the end of the Cold war. A notable part of the narrative focuses upon Ransom’s failed marriage to a wealthy white railroad heiress, whom, as she faces the audience explains, “Our love even mutual was deemed unacceptable during those times, they, and the society ended it in divorce. Society will not tolerate true interracial love.” But unresolved romantic and emotional tension remains central to the narrative. Ransom’s convoluted emotional world eventually falls apart as his third wife an aristocratic Haitian mulatto, abandons the writer to pursue her stalled acting career as once loyal friends turn harsh critics of her faltering husband.

Old party comrades who intervene in their attempts to dissuade Ransom’s gradual revisions to his early Trotskyite sympathies add a dramatic tension to the plot as Ransom struggles internally with his tacit renunciation of communism by compromising his revolutionary voice as a champion of the lumpen proletariat, seeking to pursue instead amenities afforded by literary success and the American Dream. This earned him the scorn of the Hip Hop generation, a confrontation that raised the temperature by revealing the deep generational divide within the black art community over “street creds” and political art.

In the end the character who has the last word is a young Wasp ascot-wearing aristocratic publisher who stereotypically represents the corporate ruling class. Facing the audience center stage he offers assurances that, despite dissident voices and agitation for change, their world, that of the corporate elite and power structure and feudal system it exploits for corporate profits, will remain unchanged. Not a perfect ending, perhaps, but one that has certainly been tested in the market place of ideas. That’s the way it ends. And that says a lot in these times.

Congratulations to Rome Neal and cast on an extraordinarily Herculean effort to uphold producing meaningful theater for New York City audiences. D.Day 2014

Cast: Lee Ransom: Rome Neal; Veronica Ransom: Dawn Murphy; WASP: Stephen Powell; Newscaster: Mellissa Harlow; Mabel: Molly Elizabeth Parker; Hank: Robert Turner; Bess: Lynae Depriest; Ruth Ransom: Connie Stewart; Editor: Melissa Harlow; Ernest Perkins: Temesgen Tocruray.Image