Furthering dream of diversity
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. himself would have had trouble identifying all the countries represented during a parade of flags in his memory Sunday evening during the annual King Day celebration in Shea's Performing Arts Center.

Students from Grover Cleveland High School waved flags from 23 countries, including Brazil, Liberia, Sudan, Nigeria, Mexico, Somalia, Senegal, Iran and Vietnam, while a chorus sang "We Are the World," the widely popular Grammy-winning song from 1985.

Organizers wanted diversity to be a major theme in this year's tribute to the slain civil rights leader.

In addition to the procession of flags, the 21/2-hour event featured ballet, choir performances, soloist Barbara Levy Daniels, African dancing and a string performance by youngsters from Muhammed School of Music.

"We're aiming to show America as we would like it to be," said Clifford Bell, chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, which coordinates the event.

More than 100 performers participated in the free event, which attracted an audience of about 2,000.

Though Martin Luther King Day is a uniquely American holiday, recent local and world events - namely the arrest of six members of the Yemeni-American community in Lackawanna and the military buildup for a possible war against Iraq - played a role in how the committee planned this year's celebration, called "One Man, One People, One World."

"If we don't become one people, we're going to be no people," said Bell, who served as emcee for the event.

Bell and other organizers did not have to look far to find an ample sampling of the world's diversity. More than 20 languages are spoken at Grover Cleveland High, where students hail from several dozen countries.

"We have kids from countries that no longer exist," said DeRutha Riding, a physical education and health teacher who helped put together the flag parade.

Many of the foreign-born students, particularly those from African nations, are familiar with King and the civil rights movement, Riding said.

But organizers said they hoped that Sunday's performances would help more children connect with King's legacy, while also encouraging them to pursue worthwhile endeavors such as singing, playing the violin or dancing.

The gracefulness of the Buffalo City Ballet, for instance, was on full display.

"A lot of these young kids have never had the opportunity to see that," said Cravane M. Givens, chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Trust Fund.

Organizers also were trying to instill more enthusiasm, especially in younger generations, for the causes that King worked so hard to advance. Givens said he sensed a lack of appreciation among many young people for those efforts.

"There is a man and there were people who came before you and tried to make things better for you," he said.

The annual celebration originated in 1979. In its early years, the celebration included a whole day of events, capped by an evening fund-raising concert featuring a well-known national act. Organizers now rely mostly on local talent.

Today in Albany, Bell was to receive the state Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award in the senior citizen category.

Bell, 73, is a former Common Council member and former owner of a dry-cleaning business. He now serves as a senior business counselor for the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State College. He got a standing ovation when the award, for outstanding contributions in the area of civil and human rights, was announced.

Newer Story Return To List Older Story