One constant theme at several Dr. King birthday celebrations in Detroit on Monday was the focus on a mix of intergenerational activity. Elders and the youth were in brilliant sync at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History where the guest speaker Dr. Carlyle Fielding Stewart III discussed the Biblical commonalities shared by Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi.
A sonorous rhythmic cadence underscored Dr. Stewart’s timeless message and his pleasant beat was later replicated in the nimble feet of an ensemble of young dancers from Marygrove College Institute of Music and Dance.
Meanwhile, in the rotunda, Judge Damon Keith autographed Crusader for Justice, a biography compiled and edited by Peter Hammer and Trevor Coleman. His pen moved in a deliberate manner as if he were on the bench adjudicating a case, now and then pausing to chat with an old friend. He gave special attention to the children who sidled up to him at the table.
At the historic Second Baptist Church, Ms. Sally Liuzzo-Prado, the daughter of the martyred civil rights legend, was the keynote speaker for the King birthday salute, and she movingly recalled the trying times her family endured after they learned that Viola Liuzzo had been shot and killed in Selma. “It was a very rough period for us,” she told the nearly packed sanctuary.
In contrast to Ms. Liuzzo-Prado’s solemnity were two performances by a group of teenagers known as Obsidian Blues, who took turns reciting a poem, and a trio of Liturgical Dancers whose swirling movement below the pulpit combined to cast a different celebratory mood.
Veteran activists, many of them union members, were part of an overflow crowd at Central Methodist Church downtown. And MLK Day for them was an opportunity to gather and address the pertinent issues of jobs, peace and justice, thereby striking a familiar chord in King’s legacy. Following a tribute to Nelson Mandela and a fiery speech from Rudy Simon, the audience was entertained by Vision, a 20-member choir from the Detroit School of the Performing Arts. The assembly in the church soon moved outside where a full contingent of protesters, armed with placards, paraded in and around Grand Circus Park.
The King Day celebrations came to a close at the Atrium in Cobo Arena, and like the other events, it was a balanced mixture of adults and youngsters, all of them imbued with Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolent resistance in their song, dance and remarks. Rev. Wendell Anthony gave a thunderous introduction to the Rev. Jesse Jackson who reminded listeners of those final days when Dr. King devoted himself to the creating the Poor People’s Campaign.
There was an endless flow of young performers from area high schools gracing the stage, including dancers from Martin Luther King High School and a chorale group from Cass Tech High School.
If other celebrations of Dr. King’s holiday in any way resembled these activities, particularly in regard to blending the old and the young, then the birthday will have been well served, and Dr. King would probably smile in deep gratitude, hoping the goodwill might extend beyond the holiday.