Authentic to the CoreMartin Luther King Day at The Venue
Martin Luther King Day was charged, though not overwhelming, last night at The Venue's open mic. There was also a lot of friendliness in the crowd as the usual line-up of diverse talent, some of it outstanding, some so interesting you couldn’t stop watching, took to the stage for their five (or ten) minutes of fame.
Then the last person on the sign-up list came up. She was an elderly black woman who couldn’t walk very well, had to be helped onto the stage. She wore long, full skirts, a colorful jacket, some kind of full-headed scarf or cap, and great big black clunky orthopedic shoes. She intended to read Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, she said.
I’d already seen school children in DC read the speech earlier on the PBS NewsHour, so I recognized many of the phrases all over again. But this scene was somehow more striking. This woman had been there in 1963, here in Norfolk when they closed down the schools rather than integrate. Now she’s a grandmother, probably a great-grandmother, standing on the stage behind the microphone, holding her book, and reading the speech that seems to have become like the Star-Spangled Banner for a lot of people, not just black folks. She didn’t read that well, either, but that just added to the scene. Here, I thought, is a representative of those southern Negroes King keeps referring to in his speeches (except it’s a woman, not a man) and who he represented in his deeds and, in fact, really did, like Moses, lead to a promised land. For many, his dream has come true. And if equality and prosperity have not yet fully arrived in Mississippi, here in Norfolk blacks and whites are coming together in places like The Venue, sharing their perspectives, their visions, and their time. Talk about the power of a dream!
I’ve experienced few moments so magnetic as those I spent listening to that black great-grandmother reading King’s speech with clarion passion, stumbling over words, losing her place, but forging on to the great crescendo, “Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!”
So much life and experience reverberated beneath that simple scene. It was authentic to the core. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else on Martin Luther King Day. It was a perfect moment, when past, present, and a hopeful future became one together, and time itself seemed to stand still.