Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Free At Last!.. 

If you were to classify me based solely upon my age, you would have no choice other than to include me as a member of that "elite caste" that is commonly called "generation x." This little tidbit of information isn't something that I'll readily offer up, mostly because I simply DON'T FIT the popularly perpetuated persona (say THAT three times fast...) that "Xers" are thought (by the media and other misinformed assholes) to exude. Regardless, being that I AM an "Xer," if only by timing, I am afforded the unique opportunity to be extremely aware of the circumstances surrounding the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The first year that we, as a nation (sans Arizona), officially celebrated said holiday was the same year that I was in 6th grade at Widefield Elementary School.

As a "school kid," myself, and the other little "Xer" bastards, had historical facts drilled into our collective brains on a fairly regular basis, especially when such facts could be tied into an upcoming holiday. The prevailing wisdom there was that, if us kids were gonna have a day off from learnin', well then by God WE'D KNOW WHY! (you go outside and THINK about why you get to play...) I'm sure this isn't too much different from any generation who came before or after us, you're probably well aware of the procedure...Leading up to Columbus Day, we learned about the Niña, the Piñta and the Santa Frickin' Maria. Leading up to President's day, we learned about Big George and Honest Abe. Leading up to Christmas, we would learn that our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST died on the cross for OUR SINS, so when you're opening up those packages of socks and underwear on Christmas day, YOU'D BETTER APPRECIATE IT, YOU UNGRATEFUL LITTLE ASSHOLES!

Ok, I'm kidding. I went to a public school so we weren't allowed to learn about inflammatory subjects (like "Christopher Columbus")...Anyhoo...

As you'd suspect, leading up to the inaugural Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior holiday, all us kids got some heavy book learnin' in about segregation, civil rights and many other facts and minutia regarding the life of Dr. King. In addition, in honor of this, the FIRST EVER official celebration of Dr. King's work, our school was going to put together an assembly presentation, with us 6th graders doin' the bulk of the "presenting." If you've never experienced an all-school assembly first hand, here's some background for ya...All of the children who attended the school, along with all of the faculty and staff, would gather in the gymnasium/cafeteria and watch the "chosen ones" (in this case, us) put on whatever little show they (we) were supposed to...well..."put on." After that, there would usually be a "second performance" in the evening for all of the parents. This time was to be no exception. We all rehearsed songs and skits that, presumably, were designed to give all of the younger crackers some insight into the life, death and accomplishments of Dr. King. The highlight of our little "show" was the closing which, it was decided upon, should be a reading of Dr. King's (wildly popular) "I Have A Dream" speech.

Now, I've said in the past that I'm really very "white." I am, in fact, a total "cracker," I'll readily admit that. This does not mean, however, that my schooling was void of diversity. On the contrary, I had a very diverse group of classmates, racially AND socio-economically. The community where I grew up is not far from a number of military bases and, as such, many different kids sporting many different backgrounds came and went. There were numerous children of every imaginable ethnic heritage at Widefield Elementary while I was in attendance. Getting down to brass tacks here, there were children of African-American descent available for such a speech. Why am I telling you all of this? Well, it's simple, really...

In what can only be described as a "stroke of ignorant brilliance," on what was supposed to be one of the most racially unifying days in American History, the staff members involved in putting the MLK Day assembly together tapped ME to read the speech.

I am not kidding.

Obviously, I was flattered to have been chosen for such a responsibilty-laden assignment, but I couldn't help but be confused..."Why not John Parmalee or Edward? Why me," I asked. I was then told that, after much thought and consideration, I was chosen because I had the ability to (and I quote) "do all of those funny voices."

No shit..."Funny voices."

Let's put this into perspective, shall we? One of the most brilliant orators of the 20th century delivers an empassioned speech dealing with deep issues such as civil rights, equality and hope during a very tumultuous time in our history at great personal and professional risk to himself and I'm supposed to re-enact it on the FIRST EVER day officially set aside by our country to recognize his accomplishments because I can do "funny voices?" What, I'm supposed to approach the "I Have A Dream" speech as if I'm doing an impression of Groucho Marx? How frickin' wrong is THAT? Thank God I'm not from somewhere like Compton...I wouldn't be around to share this with you now. Regardless of the circumstances, the assignment was mine, so I took on the task of learning Dr. King's famous speech as best I could. During the assembly, I was to break into the speech directly following a song, done by other members of my class. I was told by the music teacher that, if I missed my cue, there was potential to be drowned out by applause, so I HAD TO BE ALERT!...I COULD NOT MISS MY CUE!..

"Hell yeah," I thought, "I DAMN WELL better be alert"...It's not bad enough that some chubby little blond afro-headed kid was set to mimic the greatest civil rights leader in history, but what if, all of a sudden, people could be led to believe that I was merely hanging out at the front of the gym muttering to myself and disrupting the celebration?..The potential for disaster, I estimated, was very, very real. I rehearsed my part until I was sure that I had it down and then I rehearsed some more. I was going to be READY, dammit. Soon enough, the day of the assembly arrived. At the appointed hour, all of us whiteys took our respective places at the front of the cafeteria and set to the task of celebrating the life of Dr. King via skits and songs. While all of this was going on, there I stood at the front of the gym, paper in hand, ready to orate to the masses. I was dressed in my best slacks, a green polo shirt and my black "Members Only®" jacket. My hair had been recently and neatly "picked" into a wonderfully round yellowish cloud. Just as the song, which was to be my cue, ended and before our audience could applaud, I spoke, using the most authoritative tone that my 11 year old throat could muster.


As I delivered my adolescent version of one of the greatest speeches of all time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of my preparation had not been in vain. The words flowed from my mouth with passion and inflection, in fact, I barely had to look at the words on the paper that I had been clenching so nervously in my hand the whole time. As I finished the speech, I felt very calm and very relieved. People clapped and cheered and it seemed that the whole assembly had been quite the success, as elementary school assemblies go...I now realize what an honor it was to have been chosen to read the speech, even if it was an obviously screwy thing to begin with. I had a job to do and I did it. As long as I live, I'll never forget that I had the privilege of being "King for a day."

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