a King-sized thought

By Walik Edwards
Updated: January 15, 2006

“What Dr. King did was he took us on a journey, and we understand that freedom meant we went through something, and that means marching and getting tired and singing and beginning to create community as we march. It gave us all a sense of destiny and community. Now I feel like a number of places have become weary or think we have made it and things are all right.”

—–Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church.

CALIFORNIA – Most of this week’s column will be a retread of a column I wrote this time last year, but we should start with a certain sense of comfort, or false sense of security that’s taken over.

A long battle took place to have the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King recognized as a legal holiday. Marches, rallies, and blood, sweat and tears were poured to make this happen. When all 50 states made MLK Day an official holiday where children would have the day off, and government buildings and organizations would close down shop for the day, all who believed in the fight for civil rights and equality felt a justifiably strong sense of victory.

Martin Luther King was officially born on January 15. In 2003, January 15 fell on a Wednesday; so going with this country’s having their official holidays fall on Mondays, the official celebration day was January 20. The way I saw it, in terms of opportunity, people had the chance of two days to choose to celebrate the great doctor’s presence in this world.

Now we flash to the epidemic: In his beloved Atlanta, there were no plans for a citywide celebration on the 15th or the 20th. Looking at the ramifications, it’s probably the worse case scenario to have Atlanta, of all places, start the non-MLK celebration trend.

The epidemic flowed deeper into the veins, though. We here at BlackAthlete even missed it twice. It’s not a slight, because I called in my concerns, and in a sense could have done something a day earlier if I was on the top of my game, but I thought we might have missed something in the translation of who we are, and in the focus of all who are watching us.

Last week I spoke about the Legacy Awards, and its lack of support, and Martin Luther King Day seemed to ride on those same tracks this year. Checking on a few Black sites, LeBron James’ new Hummer, Willis McGahee’s knee, and Shaq losing his big man status to Yao Ming were stories more important than giving props to Dr. King, and that was disturbing at best. Just like the Legacy Awards could disappear, the King Holiday, in all of this nation’s conceivability, lose its right to exist as well, which is why they don’t exactly etch any law into stone.

The Dr. King holiday is more than just a day for reflection, but it is also a gift. A nicely wrapped statement that says a bloody struggle for equality and civil rights stands for a lot of what we have become in this day and age. While the scales aren’t tilted on an equal plane as of yet, a battle is still being waged out there picking up where Dr. King left off.

In the dark days before an impending war, his speeches about peace should also be taken into account. President Bush hung a photo of Dr. King in the White House at the beginning of his term, and is going 180 degrees in what that photo represents.

On this situation alone, people should be gathering in packs to re-enact speeches, and talk about what’s still happening, showing that the fight still lives on, and the architect who drew up the plans lives on in each and every one of us.

We have just one, maybe two days to honor him, so let’s not lose focus in what this place would have been without him and many like him.

Some dreams should never die.

Some dreams should be worked towards reality.

“We’re saying here in 2007 his legacy still points to all the things we need to do to come together and empower power. We’re on the brink of war and facing issues around health, housing, disenfranchisement, civil and human rights that affect largely the minority communities in large numbers, and when you look back at his speeches, he seems to be speaking on these issues even though he’s not even here.”—–Jackie Keys-Guidry, event coordinator for the Northern California Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Observance Committee.

Growing up in the Bronx, my mother went out searching for a new venture for her little boy to pursue. She’d sent me to daily summer camp in Mount Vernon and to egghead schools in the south Bronx, and did other things to stimulate my social being.

There was the athletic side of me that she’d yet to tap into, but she found the oasis soon enough and off I was. Just a quick hit on how the neighborhood was divided: my sector was African-American and Puerto Rican, and it was bordered only a few blocks from an Italian neighborhood. One of those tough Italian neighborhoods in the Bronx you see in the movies. One of those tough Italian neighborhoods in the Bronx that wasn’t very welcoming to anyone who wasn’t Italian, however, that’s where the little league headquarters was located, and we were going there to get me my new uniform and start my baseball career.

Most of the league was white, regardless of what the nationality was, and my team, the 369th Vets, was peppered with black and Puerto Rican kids. Segregation of a sort. We had the only two black coaches in the league as well, Mr. Brown and Mr. Clarke. Mr. brown was the lead coach for the league’s all-star team, which I had no idea I would be invited on to in my final year of little league ball. He reluctantly invited me. As he would tell me later, “I didn’t want to subject you as the only black player on this team to any stupidity. These are all good kids, but things happen.” he finished with “but you’re the best centerfielder we have in this league. Best arm, hits the hell out of the ball. You go in there and show why you’re the best in the business.”

my first day in all-star practice, I came in with my Vets pants on and cleats with no socks. The other teammates gave me the immediate nickname of “Barefootin'”, and things were focused soon to the business at hand, which was to get ourselves on a long summer journey through many teams, en route to Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

The walk from the practice field to our neighborhood was a lengthy one, but we ALL walked it without incident every day. There was an interruption to the program one day when one of the kids suggested that we play, “Beat up the black kid”, a game I obviously couldn’t play. He was kidding, and admitted as such even before the other players let him know that it was a bad judgment call on his part to even suggest it.

It was the only incident of its kind.

We marched on through quite a few teams, and made it out of the state before eventually falling to a team in Michigan, but during our run we maneuvered as a team, a colorless unit with one common goal. The parents gave me loud cheers when we were introduced on P.A. systems, and the adoration parlayed into invites to dinner and other social gatherings. I had my own satisfactory social schedule, so I wasn’t able to attend most of what I was invited to, but did my best to frequent many of the gigs.

In our last game, I realized that we’d gone through a lot together, and we were feeling sorrow and anger together. We were 12 year-old kids who had had their dreams of going to the Little League World Series squashed.

Thinking about it now: some 20 years ago, the opportunity for me to be a part of something like this where the requisite didn’t have to be 14 other dark faces giving me the eligibility to chase a dream.

Today should be the start of celebrating sport not for its constant indiscretions, outlandish contracts, silly quotes, or other things the powers that present sports give us on a daily basis, but for the strides that have been made to make sports a togetherness event with people of different races and creeds joining for one common goal. Black goaltenders, or hockey players aren’t looked at as such an oddity anymore, except by ourselves, which is a strange happening in itself, and we’ve reached an era where a sophomore QB is the toast of the town because of his unlimited talent, and not because of his skin.

The transition is still slow, and the structure isn’t perfect by a long shot, but it’s getting there, and I think Dr. King would be proud that things are at least still moving forward.

Thank you, Dr. King.