Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. A fundamental principle he believed to be true and is not considered, without a doubt, one of the most influential figures in American history. But do we risk repeating past mistakes if we place MLK on a pedestal? History is doomed for repetition if we do not remember the past, however unpleasant. I read Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” and interpreted it to be a cry of knowledge. King thoroughly stakes his claim that when he was acting was indeed the right time. He also ties in arguments that play to one’s common sense; if there were and unjust law, you should break it. In the assembly, the keynote speaker was Dr. J. Cameron Carter. He shone a different light on King that was entirely unlike I had heard before. By describing King’s life as a hagiography, we risk forgetting all that King fought against. The times we life in today Dr. Cameron describes as the “post-racial blues” era and defines the blues as the impulse to keep painful details of a brutal existence alive. Dr. Cameron is transcribing his belief to all of us that given enough time, America will make the correct decisions and do the right thing; and this scares Dr. Cameron. King is the man who was the engineer who drove the steam locomotive that was the civil rights movement from the Underground Railroad into today’s society. Dr. Cameron is the one who reminds us that it would be tragic to brush away the melancholy that was segregation. This belief must resonate to transform us to become a conscience America in the future.
An article by Stephanie Shapiro of the Baltimore Sun explains the exact actions that King encouraged in his letter. The owners of Dogwood Deli, Galen Sampson and later, his wife open The Dogwood Restaurant where they hire previous convicts and drug addicts giving them a chance to start fresh and learn to make a career of the culinary industry. The owners believed in a dream of bettering the community that is America and were doing it one small step at a time. I was actually so moved by the article that I was going to suggest to friends the idea of dining at the Dogwood this weekend. It grieves me to report that the restaurant about which this article was written officially closed this Sunday. It seems to me a shame that the five star resorts with kitchens serving “Hudson Valley foie gras in riesling aspic with warm brioche and cloudberries” can remain in business while humble Deli’s that do the right thing continue to fail.
Similar to King and the story of the Sampsons, a poem entitled “Directions for Resisting the SAT” by Richard Hague describes a belief, a belief in yourself. The last line of the poem says it all, “Make your marks on everything”. The poem is trying to say that it is ok to walk against the flow of conformity. The SAT is a metaphor for any “necessity” that can be thrown your way. You do not HAVE to do anything. You are the master of your own future. You are the only one who can control your thoughts, dreams, beliefs and actions.
Two very different views from the former views on beliefs come from “First Practice” a poem by Gary Gildner and “A Father” a short story by Baharati Mukherjee, in the form of inspiration and anger. In the poem “First Practice”, a coach is disciplining his team and synchronizing their visions of glory with his own. He does so in a malicious and military no-nonsense way. In the story of “A Father”, Mr. Bhowmick struggles to maintain his religious views as a former native of India. He was forced to have an arranged marriage and thus his never loves his wife who is a progressive. What is shocking is that his daughter is even more a progressive having grown up in
America. The main conflict of the story is when his daughter gets pregnant; this challenges all of his beliefs. In the end he believes that the ancient religion and superstitions are greater than his love for his wife and for his daughter.