A lesson in carrying on

Although scheduled keynote speaker Michael Eric Dyson, the Avalon professor in the humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, canceled his address after catching the flu, the University’s noontime Martin Luther King Jr. Day tribute continued today at a crowded Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

Bao Phi, a free-form Vietnamese poet raised in South Minneapolis, said King, who had opposed the Vietnam War, had greatly influenced him, a war refugee from a military family. He performed For Us, his poem highlighting the paradoxes of the Asian American experience. “This is for you, Asian America, only loved when you can be used, only told you are beautiful after they’ve beaten out your beauty with their ugliness.”

The Safer Foundation choir, made up of formerly incarcerated young men, sang “A Sinner’s Prayer”—recovering nicely after the background-music CD skipped—and “No Weapon”—with lyrics “No weapons formed against man shall prosper; it won’t work.”

Kids from the Little Village Dance Company and the University of Hip Hop wowed the crowd with break-dance moves on the Napolean gray marble Rockefeller floor.

The University’s undergraduate Soul Umoja choir, who performed a solemn rendition of “Go Down, Moses” during the opening processional, sang “What if God Is Unhappy with Our Praise” during the ceremony.

Political-science professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell, scheduled to introduce Dyson, gave an address in his stead. Click to enlargeWith upcoming Valentine’s Day in mind, she spoke on the theme of love, noting that King’s love was not sentimental or weak but universal and strong. “A true patriot,” she said, King “loved his country enough to be unsatisfied with it”—protesting war and injustice. If King were alive today, she predicted, he “would have spoken out against the war in Iraq.”


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January 19, 2004