“The Radical King” event educates Brookline community


The iconic photo of Dr. King presides over the Coolidge Corner Theater as speakers prepare their remarks. NATALIE JEW/SAGAMORE STAFF

Natalie Jew, Regulars Editor

On Jan. 15, people of all races from Brookline stood to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson in a celebration of Martin Luther King Day at the Coolidge Corner Theater.

The commemoration, this year called “The Radical King — Fierce Urgency of Now,” was a free event open to the public. According to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee, it was held to acknowledge the diversity in Brookline but also to remind us that there is more work to do.

“The movement for equality for all Americans didn’t begin with Dr. King, and it has not ended with him,” a statement from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee read. “As we honor the courageous leaders of the struggle for civil rights, let us also remember the people who joined the fight and strengthened the demands for equality.”

The event used song, poetry and speeches (which were also translated into sign language) to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life story and his legacy today.

Literary performer Regie Gibson described the event as an assembly of people who are fighting for a common idea.

“It’s a gathering of people who have a similar beliefs, who dedicate themselves to a higher way of living in civic accord with each other, people who realize it’s going to take more than hope to make that happen,” Gibson said. “It’s going to take sweat, hard-work, determination and willingness to get a little beat up. I get the sense that’s who these people are — that they’re going to do that.”

Students from the high school performed at the event. Senior and slam poet Carolyn Parker-Fairbain read her poem “Heresy.” Through her poem, Parker-Fairbain spoke to the idea that being Black and loved is the most radical thing. The Testostatones, one of the high school’s a cappella groups, sang A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke and Shed a Little Light by James Taylor.

“{It’s} an amazing experience for a lot of artists, youth and people of generations to get together and really talk about the future of our neighborhood and our country — how we can engage as radicals to make change that we all see that Dr. King really advocated for,” Parker-Fairbain said. “The whole time I couldn’t stop snapping because I was like ‘yes, you’re telling the truth,’ but I was kind of worried about if people were listening.”

As a student in Brookline, Parker-Fairbain said she felt she must be part of these sort of events.

“It’s really important for the youth from Brookline High to be involved. We are the future, and we need to know what the people before us have said to inform our decisions so that we’re part of the conversation,” Parker-Fairbain said. “We are more capable of being radical because we’re not comfortable yet.”

The theme of the event, “The Radical King,” is what Parker-Fairbain was thinking of when she wrote her poem. She wrote it wanting everyone to be radical thinkers and to appreciate people in all walks of life.

“We live in a society where everything is telling you to not love yourself from the beauty industry to the media. Everything is telling people of color and women of color and men and non-binary people and gender-fluid people that ‘you can’t be that and beautiful’ or ‘you can’t be that and be confident in who you are,’” Parker-Fairbain said. “The most radical thing we can do is to walk in ourselves, in our truth and be happy and to love ourselves.”

According to Chair of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee Bernard Greene, music and poetry were ways that Martin Luther King, Jr. and other social justice leaders communicated.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, according to Zvi A. Sesling in his talk about the power of poetry, has become a poetic homage to what real freedom is.

Gibson, who read his own writing titled “King, the Minister Poet: Confrontation and Transcendence,” described his piece as “poetic in some places, part outrage, part speaking of being hurt, part disappointment, an address, part manifest.” His writing talked about the radical Martin Luther King, Jr. in contrast with the man we often think of today.

“It came out to be great asking, ‘is there anybody who’s with me?’” Gibson said. “I would hope they take away from it not only the theme of today, which was the first urgency of man, but that they listen to that phrase ‘moral minded people of conscience and action,’ because you can be a moral minded person of conscience but do nothing.”

Greene spoke about the importance of having a Martin Luther King Day and of the celebration they hold at the Coolidge Corner Theater.

“We’re in a new world, this is not the safe world of just years ago. Fighting for social justice is not just a formula, rather something that requires thinking in new ways, thinking in creative ways to do things people haven’t done before,” Greene said. “We’re trying to provoke people to think about that information in an open-minded way and figure out what they can do.”

For Gibson, the event is not something he likes doing but is something he feels he must do.

“I don’t particularly enjoy this event but I don’t think this is an event that is meant to be enjoyed,” Gibson said. “It is an event that is meant to ask each one of us, ‘what are we doing? Could we do better? Should we do more?’ and whenever I ask that of myself I never wind up having to feel good because there’s always something I could be doing, should be doing, can be doing — but I’m not.”