I celebrated Dr. King’s dream by accompanying my family to a church in West Oakland where my granddaughter and her choir had been invited to sing. This was the seventh annual Dr. King celebration for the Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church at Adeline and 12th Street. With almost 500 people packing the benches and the aisles, from nearly every community in the East Bay, I felt an excitement and enthusiasm that took me back to my college days organizing in the South during the late ‘60s. Like then, children came with their parents, music bounced up into the upper balcony, and we all merged our identities to celebrate Dr. King’s dream.
Bridging the two eras, 90-year-old honoree Oscar Wright talked about his experiences growing up in the Mississippi Delta, and how much of a positive influence his father had been on him, insisting on registering to vote in 1939, a time when such actions were often punished with death. Mr. Wright eventually moved to Oakland and became dedicated to the education of its children. It was Mr. Wright who filed a lawsuit on behalf of African American students against the Oakland Public School District under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Mr. Wright noted that much work is still to be done, and lamented the growth of AIDS, especially in Southern Africa.
Keynote speaker Greg Hodge, Oakland Public School Board member, reminded all of us to read not just parts of Dr. King’s speeches but to study them in their entirety. He noted that Dr. King’s vision changed with his deeper involvement in social issues, leading him to stress the importance of economics, and an anti-imperialism philosophy. Mr. Hodge also emphasized Dr. King’s role as a “good father.” He finished by calling for even more holidays dedicated to women, such as Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer.
Oakland Councilmember Nancy Nadel was also honored for her support in helping to develop local programs that prevented violence, including training and jobs. Her work for Congresswoman Lee’s courageous stand for peace was also mentioned.
It was an inspiring program, and after some wonderful singing and dancing from our youth, I left the church with renewed inspiration to continue working to fulfill Dr. King’s dream. Then, driving only a few blocks away, I noticed a group of people doing construction work behind a sign that said Habitat for Humanity, one of our ex-president’s Jimmy Carter’s initiatives. It turned out that about 30 employees from Kaiser Permanente had agreed to use this holiday to put into reality the very dreams of Dr. King. They had volunteered to help build homes in West Oakland for needy families who likewise would have to provide some sweat equity of their own. This amazing program can be reached at www.eastbayhabitat.com Some funding is provided by local corporations and various government agencies. But they can use as much people power as possible. Thank you Dr. King for your dream. We are still gaining from your legacy.
Mel Martynn is a teacher and former aide to Berkeley City Councilmember Margaret Breland.