Monday, January 20, 2014

Hard times on the main streets named for "Dr Martin Luther King"

Comedian Chris Rock made the famous joke about someone being on a street named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. " You're where? Run!" he screamed. We all laughed because those streets are famously blighted and in disrepair. Melvin White, a 46-year-old postal worker in St. Louis has a different approach. He founded a non-profit to fix up those streets and restore them to greatness, the Star Ledger reported today. Mr. White's quest is a good one. These "Main Streets of Black America" are a useful thermometer of the state of Black America, just as Main Streets everywhere reflect the health and vitality of the surrounding urban tissue. How healthy is Black America? Here's how I see it. Last night I was at an event on Valley Street, the Main Street in my neighborhood. It was a release party for the local zine, masConsumption, edited by Patricia Rodgers. As the clock reached 9, young people dressed to impress and ready to celebrate started to pour into Hat City Kitchen. I loved the outfits and the sense of style, but what struck me was the earnestness, the dignity of these young people. Many of them, I know, work two or three jobs at minimum wage to support themselves and help their families. They struggle with terrible transportation, lack of family resources, and limited access to help when they are sick or in need. These struggles did not keep them from gathering around this expression of their hopes, the Music Issue of the zine. If we need to boil that down, we'd quickly get to, "And still I rise." This is often shortened further to buzz word of the day, "resilience," but that word irks me. People with money get a smug smile on their face and say, "They're so resilient," as if to say, "and therefore it's OK for them to work two-three jobs, with terrible transportation, no safety net, no health care." In my view, this is NOT OK. Therefore, I will avoid the people-can-take-any-amount-of-oppression-because-still-they-rise trap posed by resilience. Instead, I want to say that Black America today is fragile and hurting, hopeful and energetic. We need decent jobs, stable communities and fabulous education. We need limits on carbon emissions and corporate greed. We need clean air and water, and plans for the extremes of everything that are gathering around us. We need opportunities for expression and parties to celebrate it. We need the foot of oppression off our necks so we and those that are oppressing us can be free -- in the words of the Great Man we remember today -- "Great God Almighty, free at last!"