I was admiring the manmade waterfall at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco last Friday when it occured to me that there were quotes etched into the granite box canyon.
Aha, it's a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial I realized for the first time (I do live 50 miles away). One quote using the metaphor of black and white keys on the piano particularly moved me. I have tried and tried to find it via Google, alas, I'm not feeling lucky.
There is a threadbare scatter rug in the living room, two chairs protected with plastic, and a couch in need of a new slip cover. One of the keys is missing on the old grand piano. [Martin Luther] King likes to play the piano although, as his wife says, "he starts off the `Moonlight Sonata' as if you're really going to hear something, but he fades out." - "Martin Luther King: Never Again Where He Was"
I find a few melodies reminiscent of Dr. King's vision:
"In terms of Dr. King's clarion calls for Blacks and Whites to sit together and break bread, that noble notion had been echoed in the 1920s by another Black hero from Africa, whose name was Dr. James E.K. Aggrey. To Dr. Aggrey, a graduate of Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, the harmonization and cooperation of Blacks and Whites are similar to what happens when one plays the piano. This African educator underscored that hitting on black notes on the piano can produce some music, and that it is likewise in hitting on the white notes. However, for a true musical harmony, a pianist has to hit on the black and white keys together!" - A.B. Assensoh lecture
So easy to say. The tendency is to stick close to keys just like us. We want to be surrounded by kindred spirits just like us. Marketers splice and dice us into just like us'es.
I tend myself toward the chi chi cafes. You know, the ones with cafe au lait in big wide porcelain bowls and that charmingly aloof French sidewalk cafe waiter attitude. Everyone is wearing the black uniform, reading the Times on Sunday, and checking their Mac or Blackberry.
Last Wednesday, I followed a young Latino with low-riding black jeans and dangly chains into The Hard Knox Cafe situated in a supposedly "sketchy" part of San Francisco. There weren't many folks of my complexion. And besides Theresa, the Vietnamese owner from Texas, I was the only woman present.
And perhaps I was dressed too vintage Bohemian: Whom would walk in to a joint with sheet metal tin walls and red vinyl leather seats and recycled gymnasium floors wearing a green velvet jacket with leopard print faux fur? Nix that - maybe the coat did fit in.
"That's a tough neighborhood," a male friend responded when I squealed with delight he just had to go check out the place for himself.
It took a bit longer than a New York minute, but The Hard Knox Cafe's warmth enveloped me quickly. I was head over heels with this rare gem: an inviting space of radical inclusivity.
"They get an interesting demographic," Joe, the accountant whose parents immigrated to San Francisco from the West Bank, seated in the stool to my left tells me.
(He doesn't know I'm in marketing. Thus far, we'd only yet discussed oxtail soup and my grandmother.)
"Last week, I saw two women, maybe in their 50s, walk right in and sit down at a booth," Joe continues. From his description, you knew they felt as comfortable as if they'd waltzed into a four p.m. seating of a Victorian tea.
From my own impression, I knew I felt at home. Maybe I'm not alone: "please don't tell anyone about this place. please!! i am not encouranging anyone to come here so that the lunch wait time gets any longer (is it too late with the 99 reviews?)"
If you want to truly honor Martin Luther King, Jr. on this holiday entertain the thought of engaging with someone 'different' from you today... and tomorrow... and the next day...it could be as simple as talking to the person seated next to you on the bus.
"With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood." - Martin Luther King Jr., "I Have a Dream" speech
Fair warning: you won't be able to stop once you start.
"That was the beginning of the fight for civil rights. St. Louis started it. And there are six other cases, but I'm not asked to go into that question. But I am only saying that St. Louis, the story of civil rights could be written entirely from the history of St. Louis. But I think, more important, the story of American music. Call it Afro-American, Negro-American or Black-American music, the fusion of it started in St. Louis and is an important story. And let me tell you this. My research shows that it was a fusion of the German talent in St. Louis, its musical talent, the refugees from Germany driven out of Germany, seeking freedom, who came to St. Louis, who set up their sing-alongs and their music clubs, and their appreciation for music, and do you know that the music, the Germans who came to St. Louis invited Wagner, the great composer who also had been exiled and was living in France, to come and live in St. Louis. And there's correspondence between the St. Louis Germans and Richard Wagner inviting him to come to St. Louis and live and finish his composing. And I have often wondered, if Wagner had come here and composed his Ring of music, his great background of German mythology made into music and into drama, what he might not have done with the situation here with the Negro on the steam boats and the music that he was making. So there was a fusion between German technique. Listen, all the early teachers in the west were German teachers, music teachers. All our famous black musicians, Tom Turpin, Scott Joplin, all went to German music teachers to get their formal education. Mr. Handy, who do you think in his book he gives credit to as the man who moved him into music? Down in Henderson, Kentucky, when he was a janitor there and still trying to play and get his band going. He was so interested, this was W. C. Handy, was so interested in his music until he became a janitor in a music school. And the man who ran this music school his name of all names was Bach. Not the great Bachs of Germany but his name was Bach and he was a German. And Handy in his book tells you that he got his fundamental music composition from Bach. So the Germans infused their technical music into the stream of Negro beat and rhythm. And soon we had rag time and the development of blues. And later jazz. That to me is the real America. Negro music is not all African. It is not all tom-tom, they knew nothing about the piano there and the other instruments that have been mastered. The clarinet, the violin. Mastered by Negroes in New Orleans and St. Louis but put to the use of fusing the feeling of the Negroes on the technical basis of German music. And that's why it's lasted. And that to me is the real picture of America. It is the fusion of cultures, not one culture alone, standing and growing by itself. But many cultures being fused and in the background is that fine African feeling of "What race am I? I am many in one. Through my veins there flows the blood of black man, white man, Britain, Celt, and Scot. In tumultuous America. I welcome them all but love the blood of that kindly race that swathers my skin, crinkles my hair, and puts sweet music into my soul." - Judge and historian Nathan B. Young, Oral History Interview by University of Missouri-St. Louis