Honoring the Dream (UPDATED)
Washington’s LGBT community joins in celebrating dedication of Martin Luther King Jr. memorial
by Will O’Bryan
Published on August 26, 2011, 11:13am | MetroWeekly
When the new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial is dedicated Sunday, Aug. 28, it will certainly be a national event, if not one that will draw global attention. Chuck Hicks, a longtime ally of the local LGBT community, wanted to be sure that the local component wasn’t lost.
“I realized some time ago that this is a monumental occasion,” says Hicks, founder of the HIV/AIDS service organization Bread for the Soul, and a longtime member of Whitman-Walker Health’s board back when it was still the Whitman-Walker Clinic. “We’re the nation’s capital. Even if [the dedication] is a national event, we’re the host city. I thought it important, with 300,000 people coming to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we ought to do some things as citizens of the city.”
With that in mind, he gave a call to Jerry Clark, former co-chair of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force board of directors and a D.C. resident since 1973.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Clark says of that discussion in early July. “Before I knew it, I was up to my eyeballs.”
That’s thanks to Hicks’s idea gelling as the D.C. Host Committee, in partnership with the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation Inc.
“We’ve been involved in recruiting a thousand volunteers,” Clark continues. “We’ve also been involved in setting up a number or events and exhibits and such.”
Hicks emphasizes that the host community is definitely a coalition, representing a broad swath of D.C. residents. That means also having well-known clergy on the committee, such as the Rev. Walter Fauntroy and the Rev. Willie Wilson, who have at times had friction with the LGBT community. This is not one of those times, says Nick T. McCoy, local LGBT activist who serves as the host committee’s project director.
“We come across civic, social issues we may not always agree on,” says McCoy, “but when we talk about honoring Martin Luther King and the legacy he put forth, people are on the same page. It’s bigger than us. It’s about he ideals that he fought for.”
That’s certainly the theme Donna Payne, associate director of diversity at the Human Rights Campaign, says she’ll be emphasizing when she speaks Saturday morning, Aug. 27, at a midday rally organized by the National Action Network. The welcome irony, Payne notes, is that Rev. Wilson is serving as national clergy director of that event, and that he was among those reaching out to secure her participation.
“The tone will be unity in all of the movements that come together to celebrate,” she says of the speech she’s planning to give Saturday. “We’re never going away, the LGBT African-American community. This is our home. We’re black and we’re gay.”
Payne says she’ll also be attending Saturday night’s Dream Gala with a group from HRC. And the Rev. Dennis Wiley, a member of HRC’s Religion Council, will be a featured speaker at Chevrolet’s “Table of Brotherhood” event Friday, Aug. 26, with luminaries such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Arianna Huffington and Ambassador Andrew Young. Wiley and his wife and co-pastor, the Rev. Christine Wiley, of D.C.’s Covenant Baptist Church, were leaders in D.C.’s fight to secure marriage equality.
Certainly, the LGBT community has been fully involved in the preparations for the dedication and related events. One high point was “Building the Dream for LGBT Equality: Reflections on the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.,” held Aug. 25. Clark says he’s also hoping for a sizable LGBT contingent for a Saturday, Aug. 27, dedication-related march and rally in support of D.C. statehood – a topic dear to the group he chairs, DC for Democracy.
“I really, strongly urge participation of the LGBT community to come out on Saturday for the freedom march,” Clark says. “I’d love to see a large contingent of LGBT folks, perhaps in purple and pink, with signs supporting D.C. self-determination. Martin Luther King himself spoke in support of D.C.’s right to self-determination. Clearly, Dr. King supported the cause of full democracy for the District of Columbia.”
For Hicks, who – like Fauntroy and others on the committee – met King during the black civil rights movement, all the committee’s work is a labor of love.
“I was a teenager, but I met him a couple times,” says Hicks, 65, whose father, Robert Hicks, was also recognized in the fight for civil rights.
With the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial now a Washington reality, it’s a way for others to get a bit closer to the man who played a critical role in moving the country forward.
“Everybody can grasp this,” Hicks says. “He represents a beacon of hope and justice in the world. Everybody claims Dr. King, and that’s a wonderful thing.”