MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY
Two days after that film (see below) we hold our annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. Some 190 kids from the elementary and middle school and their teachers learn the great protest songs of the 50’s and 60’s (and curious how we haven’t had memorable new ones in the last 40 years)—If I Had a Hammer, We Shall Not Be Moved, Down by the Riverside, One Little Step for Freedom, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize—and of course, We Shall Overcome. Essentially, the ceremony is a number of events linking the songs—this year with a Powerpoint photo collage and clips from Youtube of Martin Luther King speaking.
This year we highlighted one of the kids’ favorite songs—I Wish I Knew How It Feels to Be Free. Written by jazz pianist and educator, Dr. Billy Taylor in 1954, it was recorded by Nina Simone in 1967 and got a larger airplay. though still not as much as it deserves.
This year was especially poignant, because Billy Taylor had just passed away at 88 years old some two weeks earlier. So we showed the kids a clip (thanks again, Youtube) of him playing it and a wonderful short interview with Nina Simone when she’s asked what it means to be free. She gropes for words and finally comes up with this, “No fear.” Radical stuff. What would governments do if citizens refused the daily fear fare the media serves up? As post- 9/11 taught us, people who are afraid will give up their voice and let others take charge and the results are not pretty.
Freedom is no fear. Thanks, Nina. I like that.
PS The following week, I asked a high school student what he did at his school for Martin Luther King day. He looked surprised. “Nothing.”