Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The King Day of Service



"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" Dr. Martin Luther King 

Yesterday was the 37th national observance of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. There were more events and acts of service this year than during the last two years as the COVID numbers are substantially lower and more people have gotten vaccines and booster shots. So yesterday saw tons of people out in the community doing tons of things commemorating the man and his message, and living out parts of his commitment to justice, acts of kindness, and love for the human race. There were park cleanups, painting and refurbishing of buildings, feeding the homeless, fixing up houses and planting gardens, cleaning up streets, and more. Religious organizations, big and small businesses, community volunteer groups, city and town governments, schools and institutions were all involved in designing and organizing all of these works, and it was a wonderfully massive undertaking. It involved people across all types of demographic lines: age, color, wealth, language, education, etc. Millions of people nationwide were involved in simply helping other people. Of particular note this year were important activities in places where Dr. King had helped lead important demonstrations and protests during the Civil Rights Movement. These communities came together, much as many of them did during the Civil Rights Movement. Only this time they came to help deal with a more current problem. And in so doing, they illustrated the continued importance of Dr. King’s message. 

 Selma, Alabama was the site of two protests central to the long and often bloody struggle to extend the vote to African-Americans. On Sunday, March 7 ,1965 about 300 marchers organized by the Southern Conference Leadership Council (Dr. King's group) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) gathered for a march to the state capital of Montgomery protesting the killing of a protester at a previous march and demanding voting rights. They were met at the Edmund Petts Bridge by state troopers and a local mounted police force who stormed into the marchers, beat them with batons and trampled some with horses. TV networks had discovered the Civil Rights Movement by then, and the broadcast went national, shocking many Americans. This led to the introduction of a Voting Rights Act by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and to the famous 50-mile Selma to Montgomery March led by Dr. King. King had called on “people of conscience”, as he put it, to come to Selma to join in the march to the capital. Many did, including a large number of whites. National TV coverage put the march and King’s words across the airwaves, galvanizing a force for change. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was then passed in August, ending literacy tests, poll taxes, and other methods by which Blacks had been denied the right to vote. Selma had changed the nation. 

This year the Selma community had originally planned a celebration of that March and the Voting Rights Act. But Thursday, January 12 saw tornadoes rip through the town, killing 7 people and doing tremendous damage to the town. And the same forces that mobilized in 1965 and came together joined with other agencies to help deliver aid to the victims of the storms. Community groups, churches, fraternal organizations and more joined together, helping shelter residents, providing food, digging out, and repairing homes and businesses, helping clothe people, and much, much more. We have had many natural and weather disasters recently, and after each one people have come together selflessly to offer immediate and direct service to others. This is truly in the spirit of Dr. King’s words above. Yes, there is a lot of work to be done. This won't be resolved easily or quickly, of course; the work and the workers will be there for a long time. It will be difficult. But the forces will still be there, doing what they can to help. Service is always needed; we all have the capability to help one another. 

Initially, I did not favor a nationwide “King Holiday.” I feared that we would see a parade of “Martin Luther King Day Sales,”  and the country would blow right past the messages embodied by his life and by his actions. But 37 years later, the day is still seen as a Day of Service; a day to give back and to help. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong.  

Here is a link to ways we in the Philadelphia area can help support some of the groups who are doing such vital work in Alabama: 


(In 2018 I wrote a post about The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and its role in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Here is a link to it, should you wish to read it: 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Looking Back In Order To Move Forward


DUKES FANS:        

  January is often thought of as a time for looking ahead and thinking forward. It’s a New Year: we make New Year’s resolutions, new commitments, and those of us who still write checks struggle to remember to write the correct year on them. But January can also be a time to take a serious look in the rearview mirror; to look backwards at what has been as well as forward to what might be. In order to make new resolutions, for example, we need to look back and see what it is we want to change about what we are doing and our lives. We need to look back to do this, and we need to look back seriously. Indeed, all of the many rituals and practices we observe throughout December and early January are as much about looking back as they are about moving forward and welcoming the new. We have to recall the story of the birth of Christ or the ties to the past that each Kwanzaa or Hannukah candle represent, and then we can connect with those things and bring them forward into our current lives. We need to know our past to fully appreciate our present and to look honestly toward the future.  

  One way of doing this for me is to look at lists of who died in the last 12 months and reflect on their impact and influence on me. Of course, that is easy when it is a friend or a family member. There is grief and pain, and we are immediately deeply in touch with what we lost and what it means. But if we are lucky, there are also people outside our immediate relationships who have had an impact on us that we want to acknowledge. For me, these are often musicians, authors, and other artists that have played a role in how I see and experience the world. The arts have had an incredible effect on my life, and they have done a lot to help me become who I am today.  

  One of the things I’m reflecting on is that we lost two R’n’B masters in 2022. I don’t normally play a lot of funk and straightforward R’n’B with the Dukes, but I incorporate some of it in my playing and singing, and it is something that I regularly listen to. And in 2022 we said, “Goodbye” to a couple of my favorites.  

  One of the masters we lost was Calvin Simon, the co-founder of what became the group Parliament-Funkadelic. This was the group the brought to the fore bassist Bootsy Collins and master songwriter singer, stage and dance director George Clinton. Calvin came along in the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s-a time when Black popular music was going through big changes and venturing into new sounds, different instrumentation, and bolder arrangements. He played everything from straight up R’n’B dance tunes and ballads to funk, to protest music, to psychedelia, to gospel, and more. He always found a way to mix things up with wah-wah on guitars and organs, strong horn arrangements, background singers, incredible bass lines, outrageous costumes, and characters such as Dr. Funkenstein. The musical changes he and Funkadelic developed have been sampled thousands of times in hip- hop and rap, and The Mothership stage shows Parliament-Funkadelic put on are legendary. Suffice it to say, along with Calvin, there are 15 other members of that group who have been inducted to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Wow!  

We also lost Syl Johnon. I had heard Syl on songs such as Dresses Too Short, Different Strokes, and Is It Because I Am Black. His version of the Al Green song Take Me To The River is a classic; even Al said he preferred Syl’s version.  His, Could I Be Falling In Love is one of my favorite romantic ballads with a great arrangement and wonderful vocals. Love it.  

   So as I am heading forward into 2023, I am also taking time to look back and re-listen to some other folks I haven’t listened to in a while. We lost several others, of course-the great Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, and Luther Guitar Johnson, to name a few. My remembering them and what they did is a good reminder of how things can come to influence me and matter to me, often without me necessarily looking for it or realizing that it is happening at the time. I think we are all lucky to have that experience. It is good to take time to stop, look back and be grateful for it. It takes at least one village to raise anyone, and if we are lucky, we have a number of great villages around us. For that I am eternally grateful.   

(There is also a lot of Syl Johnson on You Tube:  

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=syl+johnson+ )