Despite setbacks, the legacy MLK set in motion cannot be stopped

“One day when the glory comes it’ll be ours, it will be ours; 

 One day when the war is one we will be sure, we will be here sure.”

 Lyrics from Glory by John Legend and Common

 Something about these lyrics have captured my heart, something about the movie Selma speaks to me as a person.  And it’s not just me.  Just as people of all colors, religions and backgrounds joined the Rev.  Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma then,  today it is the diversity of people joined on a collective mission that made MLK Day 2015 so special for me.

You see I’m at a point now where I see Dr. Kings’ dream coming to fruition.  I know, with events like the ones that tragically ended the lives of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Brown, Antonio Martin and others, it doesn’t always appear so.

But this year, when I attended the 25th Anniversary of the PUSH Excel MLK Scholarship Breakfast hosted by another civil rights icon The Rev.  Jesse L.  Jackson, Jr.,  I was reminded that the impact of legacy is permanent and indelible.   Legacy like that of Juliana Richardson who created the video history project The HistoryMakers that has archived over 5,000 stories of African Americans across  the country.  Legacy like that of Andrea Lyon, dean of the Valparaiso University Law School, a white woman who is vocal  and influential in helping to change the criminal justice system in Chicago, likening it to Apartheid.  Legacy like that of  Tyronne Stoudemire, a committed diversity and inclusion executive, who has helped major corporations see the benefits in a diversified workforce.  And lastly, legacy like that of Morehouse graduate Walter Massey, president of the Art Institute in Chicago, one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions who has been blazing trails since beginning his career as a theoretical physicist .

And not only does the Breakfast celebrate legacy it supports amazing young people providing them with scholarships, college tours and STEM programs, among other enrichment activities.  You see these people stand on Dr. King’s shoulders and these young people stand on theirs.  And this is legacy I can see.

I learned more about Dr. King and Rev. Jackson’s legacy this year as well.  Rev. Jackson has been in the news for his calling Silicon Valley to task for its lack of diversity.  That approach of “If you respect my dollar, you must respect my person” came out of the organizing campaigns of Operation Breadbasket under Dr. King and Rev. Jackson’s leadership.  And the tactic has been successful time and again no matter the industry.  So I am saluting Rev. Jackson for maintaining a legacy that strives to make my life better.

I see Dr. King’s dream personified in the mission and vision of the Chicago Sinfonietta,  the country’s most diverse symphonic orchestra, which hosted their annual MLK Concert on yesterday.  It was more than serendipity that Maestro Paul Freeman, the Sinfonietta’s founder,  met Dr. King in an airport and the idea to form the organization was born.  Maestro Freeman’s work has been hailed both nationally and internationally since the organization’s founding in 1987.

The young talents joining the orchestra on Monday night were gifted beyond measure.  They included a 13-year-old cellist Sujaru Brit, a native New Yorker, who has been studying classical music since the age of two.  Britt was inspired by Yo Yo Ma, also a mentee of Maestro Freeman and she admits to getting tingly when hearing him play.  So enamored was she of Ma that she’d beg her parents to play his music on the computer, since they did not have a television in the house.  Britt masterfully performed French composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 at Monday’s concert.  The piece has been referred to as daunting for even the most seasoned professional but Britt’s performance elicited a standing ovation from the house.  This was a return engagement for Britt, who says one of her greatest joys is seeing young people who have not been exposed to the music experience the same joy that she does.   Hers is a legacy of love and passion.

Prior to her performance Conductor-Composer Jherrard Marseille Hardeman, took to the stage to conduct the Chicago Sinfonietta Orchestra in Symphony No. 3 in D Major “Blues”.  This was Hardeman’s first visit to the Sinfonietta and the 17 year old commanded the stage, exhibiting both nuance and power in his conducting style.  He says he is addicted to composing and conducting and has spent time pouring over videos of the late, great Leonard Bernstein.  Hardeman is currently mulling his college options of  Juilliard, the New England Conservatory, Mannis College, Curtis Institute of Music, and Oberlin Conservatory of music  in Ohio.  “If at least one person’s life is changed by me and the orchestra I will feel I have done a good job,” he says. Legacy.

I wonder if Dr. King could even, in his wildest imaginings, see how his legacy grows and continues to yield amazing fruit.  So yes, I am not desensitized to the inequality and injustice we still face; I am not immune to the violence inflicted upon us by both those who are different than us and those who look like us.  But I know you cannot stop legacy.  It is like water. If one space is too small it finds another and another until it wears down all around it.  It is about glory and one day it will be ours.
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