Last night, we braved the cold to see Sister Sledge in the Arts Park. It wasn't until we got ourselves settled on the chilly grass that I realized it wasn't just a concert. There was a picture of Martin Luther King beamed on the screens behind the stage. Several times throughout the night, his name was invoked.
Maybe I wouldn't have felt so strange about the juxtaposition had I not just seen the documentary about 1964 (see this blog post for details) with its extensive time spent on the Civil Rights movement. I found myself thinking about all the people killed as they worked to secure a more inclusive vision of our country.
I know that I can have a tendency to be a bit humorless on certain topics, so I tried to distract myself. I thought about the 3 women on stage, how youthful they still looked. I wondered what their secret could be.
Well, part of the secret was to have younger generations performing. I'm still not sure how many original members were on stage, and I'm not as familiar with the original line-up as I would be with other groups. I know that one woman said she was the niece of someone, and another woman said she was the daughter of someone. They sang well.
Unfortunately, their band couldn't make it, and so they sang to taped music, which was jarring too. But they sounded fine. The instruments from the warm-up band were still on stage. They looked so lonely.
They sang songs to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, but I honestly couldn't see much connection. That is, I couldn't see much connection until we got to the end of the show.
They finished by singing "We Are Family," which I expected. If I had a mammoth hit, I wouldn't sing it at the beginning of the show either. And suddenly, everyone in the park was on their feet, dancing, swaying, singing. We included a new bit: "We are family, singing together in unity." One of the singers yelled, "Dr. Martin Luther King would be proud of you."
I looked across the sea of humanity and decided she was right. Perhaps all those Civil Rights workers died for just this very thing: a huge swath of humanity, all colors, all ages, under a full moon, dancing and singing. Not very many decades ago, this kind of mixing in a public place would not have been permitted. And now, especially here in South Florida, it's becoming tough to tell someone's racial identity.
It's an interesting time to be celebrating Civil Rights, as we see more and more states granting rights to homosexual citizens. And there we were, singing the song which could be seen as an anthem for the gay rights movement--or maybe I just think that after seeing The Birdcage.
I know that many of the MLK era Civil Rights would not approve of these recent developments that grant more rights to more people. I know that there are still plenty of people who are murderously repressive in all sorts of ways. I know that we still have so far to go, and when I think about the non-first world parts of the planet, despair threatens to undo me.
Still, last night, as we danced and sang, I felt hopeful for humanity. It was easier to believe my favorite MLK quote: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." We have been bending closer to justice in a more speedy way than many of us would have dreamed possible: the election of the first mixed-race president, the increasing number of states where gay people can marry, the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act and the military's don't ask, don't tell policies.
As we gathered up our things and walked home, I thought it would have been a fitting tribute to the legacy of Martin Luther King to help the custodians clean up the garbage. But we can't have everything in one night. It was enough to see people of all ages, colors, classes, and genders peacefully gathered to enjoy an evening under a cold sky.
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