Thursday, February 2, 2017

"Faith is taking the first step when you can't see the rest of the staircase..."

By Amaechi Abuah

The Cultural Affairs Officer at the US embassy Larry Socha said a lot of other things to kick off the Martin Luther King Day Competition and the above MLK quote was just one of the many that formed part of his opening remarks, but, for some reason, it's the only one that really stuck.

In that way, it sort of reminds me of "I have a dream." Everyone knows it's this really important speech that changed the course of civil rights activism and all, but, if we're being honest with ourselves, most of us only know that one line. And who would blame us? I mean, it's catchy, "I have a dream." It's like "four score and seven years ago" or "here's looking at you kid." It just has a nice ring to it. And even aside from that, taken by itself, it also has the wonderful property of being just vague enough to mean something a bit different to each person.

And to me, sitting there in the Ekiti Hall, the day after King's birthday, watching students from eight different schools filing in with pianos, drums and depictive costumes at the ready, I had the rare privilege of sitting in on the day's events as the selected students sang and danced to honor the famous civil rights leader..

The talents displayed were, of course, quite excellent. I  expected  to be wowed by amazing choral renditions, but what I didn’t expect was that there would be dancing, beatboxing and even some motivational rapping ("Now, I mean no disrespect' to da black community," one presenter worded musically in probably my favorite part of the event, "but Martin Luther King … he didn't have a dream. That dream had him.")

There was also some dramatization. My personal favorite was one where MLK returned from death to go back in time and end the slave trade by asking all slave-owners to stop being unreasonable. No civil war required.

Unfortunately, all good things do come to an end and soon the prizes were awarded to the most
ambitious presentations and it was time for everyone to go home. That is, everyone except Kamal Raji and I. We were asked to wait behind, which I read as a sure sign of free food to come. Kamal, however, was less optimistic.

"What if they just want us to stay behind to stack all the chairs?" he asked.

"What, on an empty stomach? They can't do that! We've got rights! MLK would never have stood for something like that!"

At that moment, I happened to spot a cardboard cut-out of Barack Obama. That very same cut-out had stood upright in the Rosa Parks Center for the past eight years. He was reclined leisurely against the back wall of the hall now, his work finally at an end. I couldn't help but feel a little emotional as I shook his stiff right hand.

"We're living in a new age, Kamal," I said. "I wonder what Martin Luther would have said if he had known that something like Obama would happen in our lifetime."

 In fact, I wonder what King would have said if he had known that there was going to be a day named after him someday, probably something really catchy. And sure, I guess we might still be some way off from the fulfillment of his dream, but I don't think there's anyone on earth that would deny that his faith is still paying off. One step at a time.

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