For several years now, I have attended the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Annual Tribute to Martin Luther King. I go because I feel it's important to be in a community setting on this day, and to publicly acknowledge the important role that he and thousands of people played during his time to address racism and classism in our society.
The morning program is a combination of musical performances, talks given by New York political figures, and a talk given by a single keynote speaker. This year, that speaker was Dennis Wolcott, Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education. In recent years, it was Danny Glover and Minnijean Brown-Trickey, one of the Little Rock Nine.
This year, there were amazing and uplifting musical performances given by Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely, as well as by the Institutional Radio Choir from the C.O.G.I.C of Brooklyn. The choir began the program by leading us in singing Lift Every Voice. To conclude the program, Toshi had the audience link arms and sing We Shall Overcome, replacing the word someday with today.
I had the same thought about the program that I have every year: the most inspiring, engaging part is the music. The time that the politicians use to give their speeches and push their particular agendas goes on for way too long. You can feel the energy in the room go down every time one in the long line-up of people came on stage.
BAM is a cultural institution, and as such, it is in a prime position to inspire and engage people through a range of artistic medium. To their already amazing musical performances for this program, why don't they add film clips of MLK, some performances and readings given by children and teenagers, a bit of theater and dance? The performances given by the choir and by Toshi, and the feeling of inspiration and hope they inspired, will stay with me for far longer than the words of the politicians.