Thursday, August 29, 2013

NOW! How Far Have We Really Come? | 50th Anniversary of the March On Washington

Part II of II

          We have come a great distance in this country in the 50 years, but we still have
          a great distance to go before we fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr.

          --Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), August 28, 2013

Yesterday and this past Saturday, some 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legendary “I Have A Dream” speech, two of his children that he referred to in the speech, together with other civil rights organizations and tens of thousands of individuals celebrated moments in history that helped America to come to grips with words from its 1776 Declaration of Independence,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”[1]

On Saturday, August 24th, Martin King III and his sister, Rev. Bernice King, along with Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network and co-convener of the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March On Washington, and a host of other civil rights organizations marched from the Lincoln Memorial to the newly erected Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial to remember and honor what happen on August 28, 1963. (See pictures from the 8/24/13 March On Washington)

Fifty years to the day of the actual 1963 March On Washington, many of the “march veterans” and foot soldiers who had participated in the original march locked arms with college students, and led thousands down the original path to the Lincoln Memorial to hear President Barack Obama, John Lewis and others speak about this watershed moment in the history of the Civil Rights movement. President Barack Obama told...

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reflections...30-25-Now! | The March On Washington

Part I of II

Reflections...30 years ago this summer I had just finished my freshman year at Howard University in Washington, D.C. I made the decision to stay for graduation after finishing my classes and finals instead of flying home right away to California and that was one of the best decisions I ever made. Witnessing graduation and celebrating the few upperclassmen (Stephen J., Pam L., and Kim U.) I knew who were graduating was inspiring and helped me to know that I could really do this too. Howard University's graduation was the first college graduation I had ever attended. Even though I had attended classes and spent time at U.C. Berkeley, seeing people I knew graduate from college helped me picture myself in a cap and gown getting my degree. Their example influenced me.

Once I got home to California, I got a chance to intern in the Legal Department of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in Oakland. The prior summer I had worked in Nuclear Medicine in the Medical Records department of Kaiser Hospital in Oakland. There I learned that I did not want to go into Medicine after almost fainting while I observedcatheterization
procedure on a 13 or 14 year old child. Too much blood! But, I digress.

The summer of 1983 afforded me the opportunity to observe the commanding presence of two pioneering black women lawyers who were apart of Kaiser’s legal staff. One of those ladies was Sandra Hicks Cox, sister of the Rev. Dr. Beecher Hicks, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. I was in awe of them and their presence and interaction with me helped me to see what was possible. Jim Vohs was the CEO of Kaiser at the time and thanks to his personal outreach to my high school and my high school career teacher/counselor, Mr. Charles L. Franklin, I had a job waiting for me when I got home from college. Now, some 30 years later, Bernard J. Tyson, an African American and the oldest son of a Vallejo, California Pentecostal minister whom my mother worked with in their regional church organization, is now the Chief Executive Officer and the first African American to lead the organization.

After the summer ended, I returned to D.C. to start my sophomore year without a dorm room, which was my usual M.O. (I never got a dorm room or at least got in the dorm where I wanted to stay in the dorm lottery.) After showing up day after day at the Office of Residence Life and begging, pleading, and looking like a castaway to the then formidable Dean of Residence Life, Edna Calhoun, I finally got a room in Howard University's Lucy Diggs Slowe Hall. The highlight of the beginning of my sophomore year was attending the 20th Anniversary of the historic 1963 March On Washington. A few of us Howard students bought "March" T-Shirts and showed up on the National Mall to listen to the speeches on a hot and muggy Saturday as a way of showing our support and thanks for the Civil Rights movement.
20th Anniversary of the 1963 March On Washington
National Mall, 1983

In 1988, just five years after my first attendance at the 1983 March On Washington, I would have the opportunity to more tangibly demonstrate my support and gratitude for the countless men and women who had sacrificed so greatly by giving of their time and resources to the Civil Rights movement. By now I was a graduate of Howard University’s School of Business and was working for AT&T Federal Systems in Silver Spring, Maryland. When I heard that there were meetings taking place to plan the 25th Anniversary of the March On Washington, I quickly volunteered and became a member of the D.C. Planning Committee. This was my way of paying tribute to those who had given so much. I wanted to honor those who had given their lives to break down the walls of racism and inequality in this country. So during the day, I worked my full-time job, but my evenings belong to the March On Washington planning activities for well over eight months. 

What a privilege it was to work in the presence of Civil Rights royalty like Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy and the late Ofield Dukes. Along with my fellow alums Jill Patrick and Toya Watts, we got a chance to learn from "old" pros, like A.C. Byrd, about how to organize, plan local meetings, post flyers, and recruit volunteers. We met and partnered with other young leaders like Norman Nixon and Kemry Hughes, native Washingtonians and friends with my fellow New Bethel Church of God In Christ church member, John Daniels.  The guys were working for then Mayor, Marion S. Barry, and making a difference in the lives of Washington, D.C. youth.
During this time, I was inspired to write a song to honor the impact that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had had on my life. Although he was assassinated when I was only three years old, his speeches and leadership example are timeless. "Lord, Help This Generation To Dream" was written both as a tribute to the man that King was and a Call To Action to this generation to dare to have a big, powerful, world-changing dream. King gave his all to change the world and its view of people of color. Our lives should honor his sacrifice. My friends and I were fortunate to be able to perform the song a few times during the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) that was held the week before the March and at a multi-ethnic rally that took place at a local church the night before 1988 March. At the end of the song, the whole audience stood hand-in-hand and joined us in singing, “Don’t you give up, you can’t stop. Keep on dreaming!” I could tell they were just as inspired as we were. It was amazing! The memories will last a lifetime.

25th Anniversary of the 1963 March On Washington,
Lincoln Memorial, 1988