Can we, at long last, put the kibosh on the kiddie King orators?
Every third Monday in January, well-meaning people all over America get together to "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" and honor Dr. King's memory. On many of these programs appears a precocious prepubescent prodigy who wows everyone by flawlessly reciting "I Have a Dream."
The same thing will happen at 7 a.m. today at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in Durham, when the 32nd annual MLK Jr. Triangle Interfaith Prayer Breakfast will be held.
Bruce Lightner, who has been at the forefront of Raleigh's King Day celebration "since before there even was a holiday," said "the prayer breakfast is still important because it gives the black and white communities a chance to come together."
Right on. One of the more unusual King Day recognitions occurs each year in Ludlow, Vt. - yes, Vermont - where the Okemo Mountain Ski Resort offers an MLK Jr. special offer. Bonnie MacPherson, director of public relations for the resort, said the King weekend "has traditionally been one of our biggest weekends of the year. We expect 7 (thousand) to 8,000 people on the slopes this weekend."
I won't be one of them, not because of any philosophical opposition, but because MacPherson said, "We've got a little bit of a cold snap now, but temperatures are supposed to warm up into the 30s."
Up into the 30s? Yikes.
Whether one spends today on the slopes, on the beach or at the mall is less important than what you do the rest of the year.
Last year, for instance, Dr. King's birthday should've been celebrated in April. That's when, after a tornado devastated sections of Raleigh, I watched as scores of white dudes with chain saws and axes swarmed into different neighborhoods, black and white, to chop down and remove damaged trees, cover roofs and just generally lend a hand.
Lightner saw the same thing. "I very seldom take the podium" at the prayer breakfast, he said, "but I'm going to say something to acknowledge what the N.C. Baptist Men's Disaster Relief team did."
Few people who now presume to speak for Dr. King knew him personally. Someone who did was Chuck Stone, a retired newspaper columnist, journalism professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and the reason I became a writer.
"He would be surprised at the level of reverence people express for him," a laughing Stone said Saturday. "We didn't see this coming in the 1960s." Stone said he rejected King's offer of a job at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference because it meant he'd have to move his family from New York to Atlanta, the Deep South.
"He was pretty close to the fire," too close for him, Stone said, laughing again.
What, then, would Dr. King want? I asked him.
"He'd want," Stone said, "people to actually go out and do something."
Like cut down some damaged trees that are blocking a neighbor's driveway?
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