Dr. Martin Luther King Remembered at Barton Center
On January 20 the Barton Senior Center offered several events honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. The day long celebration was initiated by Cheryl Shaver, Barton Center Manager of Marketing and Development. Most of the activities were coordinated by Patricia Wellborn, a Barton member.
Beginning at 10 a.m. in the Center's auditorium, the "Black Voices Open Mic" session began. Multi faceted aspects of the Black experience were illuminated by various speakers. Participants included Michael Knight who read two poems, "Let America Be America Again," by Langston Hughes, and "(SOS) Save Our Sons," by Benjamin Zephaniah.
Ms. Wellborn's daughter, Melanie Swiat, accompanied by her daughter, Ashtyn, discussed activist Angela Yvonne Davis who was a prominent voice in the late 1960's. Like many who have spoken out against injustice, Davis was controversial because of her views. She believed that the struggle of Black women represented the fight for rights by all members of society. Eight-year-old Ashtyn Swiat earlier read a poem, "I'm Glad To Be Me" (author unknown).
Helen Green praised her hero Barbara Jordan as someone who "stood out as a person I would like to be." Among her many achievements, Jordan was the first Southern African American woman elected to the US House of Representatives and a crusader for civil rights. She is quoted as saying, "what the people want is very simple -- they want an America as good as its promise."
Not all those who spoke were African American, one example being Patrice Varzelle who passionately delivered a reading of Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise."
Patricia Wellborn and Tisharah Essex, members of the Barton Center's Drum Circle, provided a break between participants with drumming that showcased African and Middle Eastern rhythms.
Following lunch, attendees were treated to a special presentation in conjunction with the Lakewood Library's Women in History program. Vernice Jackson, a docent at the African American Museum in Washington, DC, reenacted a speech given by Josephine Baker (the only woman to do so) at Dr. King's March on Washington in 1963.
Baker, the animated entertainer who left America and settled in France, was a strong opponent of the racial discrimination she witnessed in the United States. She was also active in the French Resistance during World War II, often operating behind the scenes on many fronts. Baker was later decorated for her service and wore her uniform to Dr. King's march.
In addition to reciting Josephine Baker's speech, Jackson revealed her extensive knowledge of Baker's life from her success in Paris to, despite being an international star, the disrespect she experienced when she returned to the United States to visit. Upon her death, Baker received a 21-gun salute from France.
Next on the agenda was a screening of the documentary "DuSable to Obama: Chicago's Black Metropolis." Jean Baptiste DuSable, a Haitian of African decent, was the first settler in Chicago and created a foundation for the city. The film then chronicled Chicago's Black community throughout the years highlighting the struggles and accomplishments of its citizens. The election of Harold Washington, Chicago's first African American mayor, was covered as well as Barack Obama's rise to the presidency. Also featured were visits Dr. King made to the city.
The day concluded with a lecture by Patricia Wellborn entitled "Racism in America." "Martin Luther King knew everything I am going to tell you tonight," said Wellborn, a Cleveland native who attended and later taught at Cuyahoga Community College. She is also a cum laud graduate of John Carroll University and spent 20 years in New Mexico.
Her discussion focused on the history of racism and institutional power, including the process by which White privilege was coded into law. Black people were considered property as was painfully demonstrated in an advertisement she discovered: A female with four children was offered for sale. Only two would be part of the purchase, the others to be sold separately. The dialog also explored Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws and returned to Dr. King with a speech he delivered in Chicago where he stated, "racism may well be that corrosive evil that will bring down the curtain on our Western civilization." Wellborn, a published writer, then read her original poem, "Impact," a recurring line from it being "that's how it feels for me to be Black."
It was a day for raising awareness and reflection thanks to the many perspectives that were shared. It underscored why Dr. King fought so hard for civil rights while acknowledging other determined individuals who have engaged in the quest for equality and opportunity.
The Barton Senior Center will continue the conversation throughout February during Black History Month. A reenactment of Rosa Parks' historic act of defiance is scheduled as well as screenings representing the work of African American filmmakers. For further information, contact the Barton Senior Center at 216-221-3400.