Lin-Manuel's Recitation Of Dr. King's Speech At Riverside Church
On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King stood at the pulpit at Manhattan’s Riverside Church to denounce the Vietnam War and urge the United States to make a “shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.” As the masses flocked to the same church to hear Dr. King’s words yet again nearly 50 years later, the chill-inducing recitation of that very speech would be performed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The celebrated actor, writer and musician rehashed the mighty words of King, highlighting his firm belief in peace–even in the midst of resolving conflict. A rendition that raised the crowd to their feet by the last word uttered, Miranda himself grew emotional at the speech’s final words:
“If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when "justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
Indie.Arie's Tear-Jerking Performance Of "I Am Light"
After a replay-worthy performance of "I Am Light," India.Arie left everyone speechless with her stirring vocal chords to the nonchalant strumming of her guitar. Her background singers also sent a chilling echo throughout Riverside, garnering a standing ovation from the crowd. "We all matter because we exist," the famed singer said.
Chris Rock's Complete Memorization Of Baldwin's "A Letter To My Nephew"
If ever one forgot that Chris Rock is a veteran, they were reminded at MLK Now. If ever one forgot that Chris Rock is a professional, they were reminded at MLK Now. And if ever one forgot that Chris Rock is “woke,” they were reminded at MLK Now. The storied comedian put the funny aside to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., through the words of another visionary: James Baldwin. Taking to the podium at Riverside Church with the 1962 “A Letter to my Nephew,” Rock played a rare dramatic role, bringing to life the “writer’s reality which lies behind the words ‘acceptance’ and ‘integration.’”
“You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason,” Rock recited. “The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity.”
And while the dichotomy of Baldwin’s beautiful pen and agonizing subject matter remains as poignant as ever, it is also worth noting that Rock did not look down to read from the page on the podium. Impressive.
Adepero Oduye And Kenny Leon’s Reading Of Ida B. Wells' “The Awful Slaughter”
America’s bloody history can be found hanging from the many trees where black men were lynched simply because of the color of their skin. While in most cases the charges brought against the victims were trumped, it still didn’t stop the swaying of black bodies in the wind. Ida B Wells, a pull no punches journalist and civil rights activist boldly spoke out on the crimes against black men in her speech “The Awful Slaughter.” Actress Adepero Oduye rose to the challenge of delivering the powerful words and successfully evoked the vigor needed. Yet midway through she grew weak and couldn’t finish. A brother by the name of Kenny Leon took the baton from Oduye and picked up where she left off. To see Leon proudly speak the words about the lynching of black men, the same words that were written by a black woman, was empowering and emotionally healing. It was great to see Leon defend the plight of his brothers killed many moons before he was born, but for him to not only help Adepero off the stage, but recite so passionately Wells words meant he not only heard her, but understood.
Tessa Thompson Becoming Angela Davis
Actress Tessa Thompson's riveting rendition of Angela Davis' "Victory Speech" ignited cheers from the audience given her graceful yet powerful recitation. The sharply worded essay also spoke to the issues within the justice system and the disparities African American men and women face in the eye of the law, mainly the harsh sentencing that's brought down upon them for committing petty crimes.
Anika Noni Rose’s Reading Of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman”
As a proud feminist, Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” has long been a personal anthem whenever I’ve encountered intentional or unintentional deep-rooted sexism. Whether I’m being told to smile as I attempt to get from point A to point B, or a stranger tries to convince me street harassment should actually be taken as compliment to my beauty, Ms. Truths truthful words have given me strength and savvy when dealing with a society built on the oppression of women, and cemented on the destruction of black women. I found Anika Noni Rose’s reading to be spot on. Her voice echoed in the historic church and was equal parts crisp, unyielding, filled with confidence, grace and just enough attitude to let all know she wasn’t there to make friends, but instead to make a well crafted argument. “I could work as much and eat as much as a man — when I could get to it — and bear the lash as well and ain't I a woman?” Sojourner spoke out on the behalf of women’s rights during a time when women didn’t have much rights at all, and her voice rang even louder because she was a black woman in essence, “speaking out of place.” Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with him!” I would like to believe Ms. Truth would be proud to see the accomplishments of so many woman in the century since her passing, and for the fight that still continues, Sojourner would also proudly be our sister in arms.
Andre Holland's Stirring Depiction Of Malcolm X
Aside from his profound thoughts on the Negro and his forward-thinking strategies for him and her to rise again, Malcolm X’s speeches will always be marked by his unique cadence. Actor Andre Holland mastered the art of Malcolm X’s voice at MLK Now, reciting his “Police Brutality and the Mainstream Media” speech from over 50 years ago.
His speech packed a punch with the same clever remarks and dead-serious delivery of Malcolm. “Divide and conquer. If I take my hand and slap you, you don’t feel it, it might sting, because these digits are separated. But all I have to do to put you back in your place is to bring these digits together.” This was among the quotes Holland reenacted, filling the room with the unrepentant spirit of a fearless freedom fighter. Malcolm X’s speech also features lines that unfortunately continue to ring true in 2016, further driving home Holland’s performance.
“Let us remember that we are not brutalized because we are baptists. We are not brutalized because we are Methodists. We are not brutalized because we are Muslims. We are not brutalized because we are Catholics. We are brutalized because we are black people in America.”
Ryan Coogler Admitting To Struggles Forming His ‘Creed’ Guest List
Ryan Coogler told a story of how Warner Bros. kept pressing him to send his guestlist for the premiere of Creed. His fiancee also asked him who he'd like to attend, but he couldn't make a solid list because "all the partners I grew up with are gone." That statement chilled the church, most likely hitting home with a handful of people in the audience. Coogler also discussed putting more jobs into our communities over the increased presence of guns which breeds violence and asked people to work everyday to better ourselves on the inside before we try to fix what's on the outside. "You can't fix the outside without fixing the inside because it'll lead to disaster."
Michael B. Jordan Sitting On The Floor Next To Harry Belafonte
Creed star Michael B. Jordan is Hollywood’s de facto heartthrob. With his boyish smile and his very manly chiseled body, MBJ has stolen the hearts of teenage girls the nation over, and ignited a lust in grown women that some are too ashamed to admit. Yet during the #MLKNow event, Jordan left his celebrity and fame at the door and was simply a kid from Newark doing his part to keep Dr. King’s legacy more than alive, but burning in the hearts of all those who packed the historic Riverside Church. After his passionate (and potty mouth) reciting of a Fred Hampton’s speech, Jordan like all the other entertainers exited the stage and took his seat in the reserved pews. But my heart didn’t flutter when he passionately spoke the words Hampton did some 20 years ago. My spirit smiled when Jordan, quietly made his way to greet Harry Belafonte once he entered the sanctuary. As he whispered in his ear during the ceremony, he then grew tired of kneeling and simply sat on the floor next to one of America’s last surviving Civil Rights icons. Seeing Jordan literally sit at Mr. Belafonte’s feet was a beautiful full circle moment. Belafonte, also an actor, was known for his dashing looks and with Michael sitting by his side, the quiet moment may have been a peak into the future. Could Jordan fill Mr. Belafonte’s actor/activist shoes? We’re going to have to wait for history to unfold to find out. Jordan’s trajectory as a Hollywood star is growing at lightening speeds, yet he’s still aware of those who paved the way before him, and if it means sitting on the floor next to one of those pioneers, he isn’t too proud to do so.
Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler’s Brother Help Harry Belafonte To The Stage
Harry Belafonte was mentored by Paul Robeson and marched with Dr. King. He strategized with John Lewis and broke bread with Diane Nash and has the luxury of calling Sidney Poitier a friend. While we read about our great Civil Rights icons Mr. Belafonte is one of the last members of the Civil Rights movement, and with his 89th birthday just around the corner, Mr. Belafonte has earned his stripes. As one of the last speakers of the night, Ryan Coogler asked his brother and Michael B Jordan to assist the elder statesmen as he made his way to the stage. The humanitarian act brought everyone in the church to their feet. Not only was it a heartwarming moment to see two young men help an old timer, but in a society where seeing black men, not show each other love and respect, that moment, as fleeting as it was, proved all isn’t lost with our young men and women and we still cherish and respect the sacrifices that were made by our forefathers and mothers. Our generation has firmly stood on the shoulders of King, Belafonte and others, so its only right we help him the best we can, even it means, getting him to the stage.
Harry Belafonte ignited the youth to get active in change
Harry Belafonte graced Riverside Church with his historic presence, felt by everyone in the building. But part of his time at the podium served to ignite a fire within the younger attendees. He recounted the many people who were by Martin Luther King Jr.'s side from the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and beyond King's assassination who were in their late teens to early twenties. Although some of the younger generation were probably there to see J. Cole, there's a part of their guardians that hope Mr. Belafonte's words motivated them to enact change within their neighborhoods or peers, and within themselves.
J. Cole Reveals Ryan Coogler’s 'Fruitvale Station' Still Moves Him To Tears
The MLK Now even also featured an artist discussion between Ryan Coogler and J. Cole, who sat down to discuss their respective artistic takes on police brutality: Fruitvale Station and “Be Free.” As the deaths of Oscar Grant, Mike Brown and Eric Garner fueled their work, the two shared how the pain translated into each piece. Realizing the parallel between the two for the first time, the rapper opened up about his emotional reactions to the deaths of each victim. He also commended Coogler on doing Grant’s story “justice.”
“When the Oscar Grant thing happened, I saw the video too. This is before I was on with music, and I’ll never forget that image,” Cole told Coogler. “So when I heard about your film and I seen it, I just wanna let you know, bro, every time I see it, I break down crying. I can’t control it; it’s leaking. You really did that man justice and his story justice with a classic that’s gonna stand the test of time. So I gotta commend you for that.”
Cole also broke down the process of recording “Be Free.”
Ryan Coogler’s Message On Language
Creed director and founding member of Blackout for Human Rights, Ryan Coogler, kicked off MLK Now with a message about the power of language. Setting the scene for the performances of speeches from the likes of Dr. King, Shirley Chisholm, Malcolm X and a host of other visionaries, Coogler shared the story behind his first feature film, Fruitvale Station. Admitting that he believed the on-screen depiction of Oscar Grant’s final day would affect change with regards to police brutality, the budding behind-the-lens star shared a realization he had thereafter.
“When I made the movie, in my foolish young mind, that maybe this movie could help the situation. And in the years following, I saw even more videotapes like Oscar’s murder, even more. I felt like ‘Man, this movie did nothing.’ I got really depressed,” he said. “But then I started studying, and I realized that stories like Oscar’s had always been going on; you just didn’t hear about them, you didn’t have the technology to see it actually happen. So because of the language that was used, you couldn’t believe it [...] because you couldn’t see it with your own two eyes.”
Shawn Dove's commentary on how the event serves to change people's mindset
Shawn Dove, CEO of Campaign for Black Male Achievement, perfectly summed up the night with the statement: "I'm not leaving here the same way I came in." From the guest speakers to the standing-room only attendees, it's safe to say that everyone was moved to find ways or solutions to improve their communities. Ryan Coogler also shared a noteworthy statement to stir up feelings of empowerment within our communities. "Instead of marching on Washington," he said, "we gotta march on the hood and try to wake each other up."