October 16th ushered in a celebration of the newest monument to grace the capitol of the United States of America. The monument bearing the image and paying tribute to the Reverend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The monument was actually unveiled in August of this year, but the celebration and dedication was scheduled for September. The original date was postponed because of weather and rescheduled for October 16, 2011. The fact that this postponement allowed President Obama to participate in the event, in my opinion, was a touch of divine intervention.
Many people around the world justifiably hold Dr. King in high esteem. As an artist touring and performing throughout Europe since 2002, I have personally seen how audiences are moved at the very suggestion of his name or the Civil Rights Movement that he was so well identified with.
I remember being a very little boy in church and seeing his image on the hand fans that we used. This fan that cooled me off as I sat beside Mom-Mom [my grandmother] listening to Elder Wilson deliver his sermon was just part of the landscape. Honestly, I didn’t know who he was, let alone his importance in our community and the world.
Over the years I learned more about him. I recall how shocked I was when in my Black History Class at the High I found out his final, seemingly prophetic sermon (I’ve Been To The Mountain Top) was delivered at Mason Temple C.O.G.I.C. in Memphis, Tennessee. This was a big deal for me because I was raised in the great pentecostal denomination know as the Church of God in Christ (C.O.G.I.C). [singing - You cannot join it, you've got to be born in it…] People have teased about the “superficial” implication of the lyrics of our “theme song” over the years, but the truth is they are rooted in the scripture John 3:5.
The effort to “bring Dr. King to Washington” was spearheaded by Brother Harry E. Johnson, former president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; although, Johnson’s crusade began before his administration. I first came to know about the project when I pledged Alpha in the Fall of 1994 at Jarvis Christian College.
Alpha Phi Alpha (ΑΦΑ), the first inter-Collegiate Black Greek Letter fraternity was founded on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York on December 4, 1906. As quiet as it’s been kept (until this posting), I didn’t go to college with the intent of becoming an Alpha. I had Omega Psi Phi in my sights. I think it was partially because of the bravado and appearance of the Q-Dogs being the Marines of the Black Greeks (don’t know why that intrigued me because I preferred the Air Force over all the military branches anyway), but more than that- they were also the organization who touted having the Rev. Jessie Jackson, Michael Jordan and my “TV Dad” Bill Cosby as members… and what son doesn’t wanna be like his dad… or “Like Mike” for that matter? But soon after arriving on campus, I quickly found out that I wasn’t going to be a “legacy” [a pledge who's father was also a brother]. Not because I couldn’t take their notorious “on line” process (God and my 6 Sands know, “I have not winced or cried aloud”), but because I realized they and the other organizations were, for me, like buying a suit off the rack.
I first affiliated with the Alphas after being tapped by Brian A. Dunn who would later come to be better known to me as “Big Brother B.A.D.” It was high noon when Brian came up to me as I was leaving my dorm. I was on my way to lunch and he invited me to “come holla” at him in his room. He invited me to enter first and slammed the door behind himself. The room was completely dark. He took a flashlight and lit a poster on his door. He asked me, “do you you know who that is?” Scared, I weakly said, “Umm no.” He told me, “that’s “Adam Clayton Powell.” He refocused the light several times- I responded, “Andrew Young… Thurgood Marshall… W.E.B Dubois… Martin Luther King…” “BROTHER MARTIN LUTHER KING, JUNIOR,” he exclaimed! He turned on the light, the full sight of the home-made poster with many other prominent men in history behind him and says, “these are my brothers, all of them are strong black men and have been the first to do what they are known for doing… Do you have what it takes to be a leader, will you have one day shown the fortitude to be viewed on a poster with these great men?” I didn’t answer, but my posture answered in the affirmative. He told me that there was an organization they were reviving on campus called the Pharaohs. They were going to be the little brothers to the Alphas. I had five hours and four minutes to think about it and if I wanted to accept his invitation, I was to be in the library at 7:06PM. Needless to say, I made it to the library and later met 11 others who, with me, would become known as the 12 Princes of Egypt. Of the 12 of us, only three would make it to the S.S. 7Apes of Rage.
Going to the next phase of my process to become an Alpha was a test of my will, loyalty and endurance, and the reward was great. I stood in the ranks for some of the greatest men in both Black History and the World’s History, but there was a price to pay… an initiation fee and for someone putting themselves through school, it was EXPENSIVE!!!, but I hustled up the money and got all of my paperwork in on time. In addition to my initiation fee, I paid my first $100 to the MLK, Jr Memorial Project. Yes, the Fraternity began collecting money for this project over 18 years ago. For every $100 contributed, each brother was issued a brick to symbolized their part in building the dream (I’m still waiting for mine). I made several contributions over the years, including one of my largest contributions while attending our Centennial Celebration in Washington, D.C. in 2006. (Bro. Brawley, I’m still waiting for you to return my medallion)
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of watching a documentary that I recorded on B.E.T. There were many great nuggets of information in it, like the fact that Brother Young and Brother King never gave one another the grip [the fraternity's secret handshake], and that Dr. King was a great prankster. The documentary also interviewed one of his line brothers who attended school with him at Boston University. He talked about how they weren’t sure what it was going to be like to be online with a theology major and that they were also concerned with him being an older student. These were bits of information that were new to me and I was sopping off of it up like Alaga Syrup with a drop biscuit.
I’ve enjoyed much of the reporting and online accounts of the Memorial dedication, but I believe the one I liked best was done by Michael Bivins, mainly because it reminds me of how I would have presented my experience.
Dr. King had a dream, his dream was that we would not be judged by the color of our skin, but the content of our character. I believe we, for the most part, are living this facet of the dream. The unfortunately reality is, there are too many people who display bad character because they have been removed or have removed themselves from the knowledge of the struggle. Vintage is all about reviving and restating the past to make it last as something classically fresh. We need to find away to remind ourselves (I’m speaking about all of us in the world) of our storied pasts so we can continue to progress toward improvement as opposed to regressing into a present state of our history because we refuse to honor and invest our antecedents’ experiences.
Lei Yixin has “brought to life” this Stone of Hope. It’s but a small speck in the landscape of the world, but I hope it will be the beacon that guides us to the next phase of evolution to be a better people.
There are many photos of my Fraternity brother that I truly adore, this is just ONE of my favorites: