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Birthday salute to Dr. King at National Action Network

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 12/21/2012, 12:21 p.m.
Birthday salute to Dr. King at National Action Network

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have loved his 83rd birthday celebration at the National Action Network (NAN). There was the right mixture of reverence, relevance and political resonance to capture parts of his enormous stature.

Perhaps no moment at the rostrum-just getting there required a GPS in order to negotiate the crowd in the room, particularly the assembly of guests and speakers surrounding the stage area-was received with such applause and reaction as the presentation by the Rev. Michael Walrond Jr., pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem and Amsterdam News columnist.

Channeling King, Walrond delivered a mini-sermon graced with thoughtful alliteration and easily grasped similes and metaphors. "Dr. King was not a freedom, not a justice theorist," he explained. "He worked for freedom and justice."

Walrond said we need a new prophetic vision and to do away with being "imprisoned by old assumptions...we must abandon old rhetoric and have a passion for the possible."

It would have been beneficial to have Walrond at the beginning of the festivities to spark things, but he may have appeared just when the large number of speakers were getting repetitious, summing the usual themes and topics to invoke King.

Poor Bill de Blasio, the city's public advocate; he had the unenviable fate of following Walrond, for which moderator attorney Michael Hardy apologized profusely.

However, de Blasio wisely evoked the one name that might temper things and allow his own persona to shine. "No one is doing more to keep Dr. King's dream alive than the Rev. Al Sharpton," he said. "Dr. King's dream was supposed to be a long dream."

That long dream and King's legacy should never be spoken of as "in the past," said Rep. Jose Serrano. "He is not in the past because his message is as alive and important today as ever."

Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Schumer reminded the audience that of all our national holidays, "only one is named after a person," he said. "We have so much to do to live up to his ideals of social, political and economic justice."

New York junior Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand cited one of King's favorite expressions as part of her salute to a man whose vision and voice always came at the right time with the right message. "Only when it's darkest do we see the stars," she said, quoting King.

One tiny star among the constellation of brilliant speakers was 12-year-old Victoria Pannell, who heads up the youth contingent at NAN's New York branch. Using an "I was too busy" rhetorical device to make her points, she said, "I was too busy when Dr. King was killed by James Earl Ray, but now guns kill anybody walking down the streets."

If one theme tended to monopolize the day, it was gun violence, with more than one speaker focusing on this pressing dilemma, none more passionate than Sharpton and Tamika Mallory, NAN's executive director.

"We must come together in the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to stop the violence," Sharpton asserted. This was not a time to hustle Dr. King's day, to pimp it.