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A Great American's Dream
Hopkins again pauses to reflect on the legacy of one of our most revolutionary thinkers.

Keynote speaker Danny Glover returned to the stage and joined Unified Voices in singing "Happy Birthday."

Like Martin Luther King Jr., whose sermons kept him coming back to church when he was a child of 10, cardiac surgeon Levi Watkins says exactly what he thinks.

"It's hard to believe it's been 21 years," Watkins said at Hopkins' 2003 commemoration of the civil rights leader's birthday, the event he founded to honor King's memory. "I hope it's been 21 years of love. I hope it's been 21 years of controversy. Every year we talk about how we've made progress, and every year we talk about the work to be done. What went away was public segregation. But private segregation still lives-and you know it."

That's one reason why Hopkins' annual Martin Luther King tribute always gets under way with footage of previous keynote speakers. On Jan. 10, as the faces of such giants as Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Desmond Tutu and Maya Angelou filled the screen in Turner Auditorium, the tradition gave this year's guest of honor an unexpected jolt.

"I just had an out-of-body experience," Danny Glover told a standing-room-only audience. "I had an urge to walk out."

But if the stature of his predecessors at the podium caused Glover a moment of angst, the internationally acclaimed star of stage and screen quickly left no doubt that he was far from miscast.

Famous for his roles in the "Lethal Weapon" series, "Beloved," "The Color Purple" and others, Glover came to his profession not from a desire for fame but from a need to make things better. Before he was an actor, Danny Glover was an activist.

Growing up, the California native saw his parents, both postal workers, lobby for unionization. He protested the death penalty. As an economics major at San Francisco State University in the 1960s, he helped organize a student strike against the school's decision to jettison its ethnic studies department. He helped fight an urban relocation battle that was threatening to displace homeowners. He was planning a career in community development. Then he discovered agitprop-agitation protest-theater. It was the work of South African playwright Athol Fugard that showed him how powerful stories can challenge prevailing thought. "In art," says Glover, "you create the world you want to see."

And Glover's view is global. Dedicated to raising awareness about the impact of AIDS, he's a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Program. As chairman of TransAfrica Forum, an organization that works for human rights in Africa and the Caribbean, he's determined to bring an informed African-American perspective to U.S. foreign policy discussions. He's an active board member of the Algebra Project, a program developed by civil rights leader Robert Moses aimed at keeping low-income students from slipping irrevocably into an economic underclass. And he's a spokesman for the issues of hunger, anemia education, prison-overcrowding and due process rights.

Reminding the Hopkins audience that King's philosophy was about breaking down barriers, Glover made clear that King was talking about more than life in the United States. "As long as there's poverty in the world," Glover said, quoting King, "I can never be rich. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be."
Glover noted that while 2 billion people make less than $1 a day, Americans compulsively over-consume. If every other country used resources the way we do, he said, we'd need four more planets to supply the demand.

Yet King's view, he pointed out, is that we are all interconnected, that human life is sacred, that every man is somebody because he is a child of God.

"King was not perfect," Glover said, "but he was great. He was a great American in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass. When the founding fathers wrote that all men are created equal, they really meant all white men. What King and the African-American experience have done is insist that that document live up to and exceed the founding fathers' flawed vision."

Joining Glover was Julie Belafonte, who accepted Hopkins' Martin Luther King Ideals Award on behalf of her husband, Harry.

-Mary Ann Ayd

 

 

 

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