Monday, April 28, 2008

Remembering Dr. King at Boston U

So, I had a crazy month. I have been all over the place and done/saw some very cool things. I've been meaning to blog about this panel I managed to catch while I was at a conference out side of Boston early this month. Boston University is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s alma mater. His papers are housed there and they recently hosted several panel to commemorate his life and legacy. On April 4th, forty years to the day that Dr. King was assassinated, they assembled an impressive panel of artist to speak about their relationship to Dr. King and his legacy. The panel was moderated by Callie Crossley (whom I met in the airport a few days later and had a lovely discussion with about the way she wrangled the folks on stage). The panelists were: Sonia Sanchez, Derek Walcott, Nikki Giovanni, Simon Estes, Chuck D, Sam Cornish and Talib Kweli. I took several pages of notes and just wanted to list some random quotes (in no particular order)that struck me as a listener that night:

Sam Cornish said his major influences were Gwendolyn Brooks, Dudley Randall and Broadside Press, and especially Amiri Baraka. Quotes from Cornish:

"I think it's important to be dangerous, to be critical."

"The international language (art) is yours if you work for it."

Quote from Simon Estes:
"Hatred and war have never solved anything."
Simon Estes opened the panel with a beautiful rendition of the spiritual "Go Down Moses." He also mentioned that he had a close, personal relationship with the King family. Even so, Estes seemed wildly out of place on this panel and every time he had a chance to speak he ended up off-topic, usually encouraging the 1,000+ audience members to renew their faith in God...preachy but heartfelt, nonetheless. His real contribution, though, was his voice. Listen to him perform here.

Quotes from Sister Sonia:


I spoke with Prof. Sanchez not long after the panel and she told me that she felt that it was one of those instances where she could sit back and observe more than speak. And that's pretty much what she did. I think, after all the work she's done, she's entitled to just observing at times.

Quote from Talib Kweli:

(Upon being asked if artists have the responsibility of being political in their art) "The job of the artist is to be honest with themselves. My job as a man is to be responsible to my community."

(As a disclaimer about the language in his song "Hostile Gospel") "Hip-hop is an aggressive art."

No real quote from Callie Crossley, but she did a fantastic job of handling all of the egos up on stage. The panel was hastily constructed, ran much too long and had many kinks, but Ms. Crossley was the saving grace of BU that night. They should thank her, book her again and put some extra cash in her pocket for keeping things running smoothly (especially when she had to keep Chuck D and Sam Cornish from trying to outdo each other verbally...)

Quotes from Chuck D:

"I don't like history punkdefying Dr. King's legacy."

"Dr. King taught me that we have to protect those that want to do right."

"If you take the music away from the people , you take the history away by default."

"Be a nerd about what you about."

Walcott was pretty laid back, too. I guess once you've won the Nobel, you don't have to prove anything to anybody!

Quote from Derek Walcott:

(Upon explaining why he uses the word "black") "African-American is one of those hyphenated things that doesn't face the truth."

Quotes form Nikki Giovanni:

"The hero is misunderstood, though right in the end."

"If you're not dead, be alive."

(On being a fan of Hip-hop) "If you're not offending anybody, you're not doing something right."

All in all, I was glad I took the hour-drive (in the cold and rain) to witness the panel. Even so, here are some other notes I took for myself while I was there:

  • One thing I've learned: Artists really like to talk about themselves.
  • Chuck D talks loud and long but never really answers the questions. Callie cuts him off.
  • Question from a student that saddened me a bit: "I was raised by an older generation and I know they are supposed to teach us, but I've given up on that. So, tell me, what can we (the younger generation) do to educate ourselves."