[cover photo - even as the heavy rains started to fall, a few brave souls came to the inaugural opening of the MLK memorial on that historic Saturday, which is known as the unofficial unveiling]
Today millions across the globe joined the United States of America in celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As we look back, like many historic events that was not always the case. In 1983 It took lots of arm-twisting and sophisticated political lobbying to get Ronald Reagan to sign the national holiday into law. Year after year Dr. King’s prominence keeps growing.
The MLK Memorial
There are statues of Dr. King sprinkled across the United States. It was 2011 when the nation anticipated the unveiling of the MLK memorial adjacent the national mall. The ceremony was to take place August 28, 2011. Unfortunately, a hurricane named Irene had other plans.
Despite the looming hurricane which shut down Washington, DC and the eastern seaboard, a few had already made plans to attend the event and took a huge gamble to travel to there despite ominous weather conditions and the subsequent event postponement.
Judith and I had followed the creation of the MLK memorial since construction had been announced. Due to the weather it was decided Judith would remain in Los Angeles and I would venture to D.C. to see if I could get ahead of the hurricane to get a glimpse of the memorial.
Upon arrival the weather was rough as the impending hurricane had not yet hit. As I made it to the memorial my gamble paid off as even though visitors were scarce, I was lucky to meet the sculpture of the memorial, Master Lei Yixin. It was great to meet the person who was selected in creating the landmark.
As previously mentioned, Judith and I had closely followed the construction of the memorial. I was happy to hear how the MLK foundation was managing the progress. Unfortunately, some issues of the construction became serious and to this day I have still not reconciled. First, Yixin selection as the sculpture was shocking. No doubt the likes of Ed Dwight who was experienced and had developed a successful inventory of statues of Dr. King was available, folk couldn’t figure out why he or other U.S. artisans were not selected? It was also uncovered that as a Chinese national Yixen knew very little, if anything about Dr. King. I was later informed the foundation had to send someone to China to educate him on the work of Dr. King.
Then, the issue with the granite raised eyebrows. Folk were stunned to find out not only would the granite come from China but that sculpture would be made there and imported to D.C. in sections. What??? I mean some of the best granite in the U.S. is in Georgia or Connecticut just to name a few states. Many did not care or perhaps had forgotten that the United States economy was battling the effects of the 2008 financial meltdown. Folk were dealing with all sorts of economic set-backs, particularly on the employment front. Thanks to hard-hitting reporting by the Washington Post, with all of the monuments in D.C. and the many craftsman’s and artisans who create such beauty they were available and ready to work. Sadly, many were shut-out from participating in the project that was right at their doorstep. That is why it was a huge surprise to find out some of the workers to finish construction of the memorial were actually imported from China and were housed in a nondescript building in D.C.
Those incidents do not take away from the contribution of China or the sculpture. Anyway, I digress but consider myself fortunate to not only meet the sculpture but also the President of the Kappa’s who originated the plan, raised the money and developed and other resources for the project to be built. So, my conflict with the construction was minor compared to the bigger picture of erecting a monument giving homage to a true American hero.
Ella Dean, Renie Hale & Justine Love
The rains started coming down harder so I needed to retreat to a venue where I could relax and grab a bite to eat. I headed down to the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl at the “U” and while sitting at the counter munching on a half-smoke I noticed three strangers who seemed to know each other and like me appeared to be in D.C. for the occasion? That day goes down in history, especially as we celebrate Dr. King. Judith and I are now known as close family friends to; Ella Dean, who was on assignment and on her way to serve with Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, Renie Hale from CBS, who was also on assignment and Justine Love, from a CBS affiliate who was also on assignment. We all returned to the memorial the next day as the hurricane had given way to glistened sunshine and it was a remarkable sight to witness the emotions of others as they came through the pillars to witness the memorial for themselves.
All of us consider ourselves students of history regarding Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Since then, celebrating his birthday and the memorial which gleans his name gives us a better appreciation in celebrating the event.