Beyond the Dream: This year’s 28th annual celebration of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Brooklyn Academy of Music hit, yet another home run, featuring on stage examples of the results of Dr. King’s work: the borough’s first Black District (Ken Thompson) with the first Black Borough President (Eric Adams). Highlights also included an inspiring keynote address by author, professor, and activist Angela Davis, who attended high school in Brooklyn, with exhilarating, soulful musical performances by modern jazz artist José James and the BCCC Singers of the Brooklyn Christian Cultural Center. Following the events in the Opera House, there was a free screening in the BAM Rose Cinemas of the documentary Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners (2012), which included an introduction by Angela Davis. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Sen. Chuck Schumer were among the leaders who paid tribute to Dr. King. Also, artwork inspired by Dr. King’s message of equality created by students from NYCHA Saratoga Village Community Center is on display in BAMcafé’s annual “Picture the Dream” exhibition.
A transcript of Ms. Davis’ keynote address follows:
I’d like to thank the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Medgar Evers College for having invited me to participate in this wonderful celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I cannot tell you how happy I am to be in Brooklyn this morning. Ten years ago, I lived in Bed-Stuy and those were some of the most memorable years of my life. So it’s real wonderful to be in Brooklyn this morning, especially since the election of a new mayor of New York.
Martin Luther King should represent the power of historical imagination, not a single individual. But rather, the vast numbers of women and men of the last century who were not afraid to stand up and struggle for a future defined by our quest for collective freedom. He should also represent those of us who want to carry on that legacy of building communities of struggle that will expand the possibilities of freedom.
That is to say that it is important to recognize that the creation of this holiday, MLK Day, was not the result of an edict from above. But rather, it was the outcome of persistent struggle from the immediate aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination in April 1968 until the holiday began to be observed in 1986, so let us not forget that bills were presented in Congress by John Conyers and then by Shirley Chisholm. And then we demonstrated for this holiday. We marched, we signed petitions and Stevie Wonder composed and recorded the Happy Birthday song for Dr. King, which in many of our communities has displaced the conventional Happy Birthday song. The point I’m making here is that vast histories of Africanism have enabled us to come together this morning and extend our discussion of Africanism in the cause of freedom.
One of the great advantages of having a period during which we can meditate on the legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is that we get to think deeply about the meaning of freedom. About how far we have moved in the direction of its attainment. About how far we still have to go or even whether it makes sense to think about freedom in such quantitative terms.
We get to think about freedom not only for Black people, but also for indigenous people, for Latinos, for Asian-Americans, for Muslim-Americans; we get to think about human rights for the LGBT communities, about liberties for disabled people, we get to think about an end to anti-Semitism and militarism and violence. We get to think about food justice and we get to think about the environment.
We also note that we cannot think about freedom without invoking the institutionalized deprivations of freedom like slavery, Jim Crow, apartheid and the prison industrial complex. It has taken a very long time to encourage serious discussion about slavery.