Sunday, June 12, 2016

Going there


     History sends out odd ripples. A big wave of long ago will ripple past, unmistakably.
     In the summer of 1966, Martin Luther King brought his open occupancy movement to Chicago. The City Council, in one of its lower moments, passed a resolution telling him to mind his own business: Mayor Daley had claimed progress had been made ending redlining. Was that not enough? "We want to see if they are serious," King replied, as hundreds of black associates went into real estate offices and asked to see home in white neighborhoods.
     It was that August when, marching in Marquette Park, that King was hit in the head with a brick.
     That thrown brick was why I found myself at the Glen-Gery brickworks last Monday. Because doing this story in March on the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, I saw the monument to King they're preparing—out of bricks, aptly—to be unveiled in Marquette Park on the anniversary. I asked the artist where they would find a kiln big enough to fire all those bricks, and he told me about Glen-Gery.
     As if one King-related event weren't enough for a week, on Thursday I spoke with Michel Martin, the NPR host, who'll be in Chicago this Tuesday June 14 holding a special event in her "Going There" series: "The Chicago Freedom Movement, Then and Now.
     The program revolves around King's move into a Chicago slum that summer to draw attention to segregated housing. Martin will be moderating an evening of performance, conversation and music centered around perhaps Chicago's central and most pervasive problems, segregation and housing.
 She has done similar "Going There" events around the country: Fort Collins, Colorado to talk about water; Kansas City, Missouri to talk about food.
     "We have no agenda," she said. "This is not a constitutional convention, not a recital. It is a community conversation, to talk about things people want to talk about. To talk about something of consequence, period."
     All very high-minded, but I felt a sneer rising and I couldn't suppress it. Why? What's the point? Here in Chicago where we're so frozen; we can't even fund the public schools, never mind make them run well. Why talk about problems that Martin Luther King couldn't solve and, half a century on, is by all indications much worse now than it was then?
     "What's the point of talking about it?" I said.

     "I don't know how a person who lives by words can say that," she replied, which was about as sharp a slap in the face as I've received in a long time, because she was right. The downside of dealing with these intractable issues, year in and year out, is that you become cynical and hopeless, and don't even want to think about them, because it's all so frustrating and sad. I had forgotten that we can't ignore our way to a better world. If all we can manage to do right now is talk, is to focus on an issue, then let's talk about it and focus on it. Maybe something useful will come.
     I hoped to go on Tuesday—it's being held at the Athenaeum Theatre on Southport. But I already told the kind people at the Kitchen Community that I would attend their 2nd Annual Learning Garden Leadership Awards dinner, and I don't want to let them down. Besides, "Going There" will be streamed live, and I intend to circle back and watch what transpired. Though it sounds like an something worth attending.
     "My agenda is for people to come away feeling that it was worthwhile evening," said Martin. "That they met someone perhaps they wouldn't have met, were exposed to ideas, learned something important."
     She said each event turns out differently.
     "There's always some kind of cultural element: music, poetry, dance, theater," she said. "These events bring people together. It becomes powerful."
     My chat with Martin was so interesting that I stopped being a reporter and just talked for a while, which was good for me, but bad for you, in that I stopped taking notes and can't convey more than a sense of our exchange. We were discussing a recent program in Pittsburgh, "The Reinvention of the American City."
     "I'll just be honest," she said. "Tears were shed. It was not most comfortable conversation. People who have lived there along time felt this is a rare moment when people are talking with each other rather than at each other."
     It felt that way talking to Martin. It was not the most comfortable conversation, particularly her "I don't know how a person who lives by words can say that." But I liked being challenged, and felt I came away better for it. If you want to experience something similar, you can learn more about the program by clicking here.


  1. Kudos to Michel Martin and her efforts.


  2. This sounds like a good program. I think the mix of art, history, dialogue and policy is a good combination of necessary elements. Young people do need to be reminded of important history.

    Linda B


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