Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Power of Recognition

Harlem Arts Alliance Presents:  On the “A” w/Souleo

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Power of Recognition
Samuel L. Jackson & Angela Bassett in "The Mountaintop"

As the first boy out of nine children I’ve always considered my birthday to be a special occasion. Had I not been born, my mother would have been stuck with five princesses but instead she gained a queen (a little self-deprecating humor, if you will). That’s why I treat my birthday every year as if it’s a national holiday even though I didn’t inspire the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Those honors belong to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which is why the day he took his first breath out of the womb is a federal holiday.

I started my observance of Dr. King’s legacy early with a viewing of the Broadway hit, The Mountaintop, starring Samuel L. Jackson as Dr. King and Angela Bassett as a hotel maid, or so you think. The lack of physical resemblance between Jackson and Dr. King was a glaring distraction and I could not suspend disbelief, even though Jackson gave a solid performance full of integrity, wit and vulnerability. Still the production has several rousing moments where the power of Dr. King’s social justice vision and spirit comes to life reminding us of why he is a treasured figure.

At the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters Awards I was in awe at being surrounded by legends such as Jimmy Scott, Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross and the five inductees: Jack DeJohnette; Von Freeman; Charlie Haden; Sheila Jordan; and Jimmy Owens. The event which was held at Jazz at Lincoln Center featured several high points including Jordan leading the audience in an impromptu sing-along; the announcement that Harlem Stage was one of the first-time recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts, $135,000 grant for jazz programming; and having a private moment with vocalese icon, Ross. She is the subject of a new documentary set to debut at the Glasgow Film Festival but she was more interested in reflecting on the meaning of the evening’s award. “My most beautiful night is when I became a U.S. citizen and when I became a jazz master. I never thought I would attain it.”

I didn’t think I would make it to the Fourth Annual Harlem Arts Alliance Member Celebration held at the Dwyer Culture Center after my late jazz night, but I did. The event’s host, Michelle Caldron, began by introducing the Boys & Girls Choir of Harlem Alumni Ensemble and their renditions of classic soul songs had the crowd dancing with abandon. Two of the night’s award recipients, The Movement Theatre Company and HarlemKW Project performed captivating monologues. Yet the most telling moments came from honorees, photographer Jack Lee and Volunteer of the Year winner, Cecile “CoCo” Jackson. Their speeches of passion and gratitude served as reminders that all around us are individuals deserving to be celebrated like it’s their national birthday for their unsung positive contributions; even if they don’t have quite the profile of Dr. King.

For more information on the Harlem Arts Alliance, visit www.harlemaa.org.

For more information on Souleo Enterprises LLC, visit souleouniverse.com.

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