The enormous crowd, the warm sunny day, the energy—everything was perfect when I visited the MLK Memorial on Tuesday and indeed it was a memorable experience, for more reasons other than the first African American being memorialized on the National Mall. It’s not everyday that one gets to see history for the first time, so I insist that everyone go see the MLK Memorial. Once you visit, you will want to go back because that is exactly how I felt. I wanted to take my mom and dad, grandma and grandfather, my nephews, everybody.
I couldn’t have thought that my visiting the Martin Luther King Jr, Memorial would be the second biggest event that transpired on Tuesday. So I decided to take you through everything that happened to me yesterday while traveling to the MLK Memorial.
For my Metro riders: To get to the memorial, I took the Green line from Greenbelt to L’Enfant Plaza. From there, I transferred from the Green to the Orange line to get to the Smithsonian station and walked to the Mall. To get to Greenbelt, I caught the bus and as anyone who has ridden the bus before knows, there are too many unintentionally funny things that happen on the bus. For instance: the old white guy flirting with the girls who kept fiddling with their phone trying to ignore him, the teenage couple missing their stop because they were boo loving on the bus, and the obnoxiously loud guys in the front seats talking to each other and the bus driver about the prospect of a successful Redskins season (“But this year we gonna be aight. We got Rex Grossman and Donte Stallworth!).
It’s not that bad of a walk to the Memorial because you get to enjoy walking past the Washington Memorial and other monuments. Even on a weekday there were a lot of people out on Tuesday afternoon to see the MLK Memorial, which prompted a random pedestrian to observe the crowd and state: “All of these people don’t have jobs?” There was one man who was working besides the security and people passing out programs, and that would be D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. Mayor Gray was there for his proclaimed “D.C. Day” at the MLK Memorial. I was able to snap a photograph of him with the Cannon Street YMCA All Stars, the first all black Little League team formed in Charleston, South Carolina. They never got to play in a Little League World Series, due to the white teams boycotting the postseason and stupid rule changes. They are in D.C. lobbying for congressional recognition, and what better place to start celebrating their bravery against racial segregation than at the memorial to Martin Luther King.
The entrance of the memorial is just how it was described, as a “Mountain of Despair.” It’s a huge boulder split in two, which serves as the entrance and the exit. As soon as one is actually inside the space, the memorial has its back to you, with two walls with quotes from King inscribed into them. The monument is as literal to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as possible. “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”– and that’s one of the quotes inscribed into the side of the monument. The other quote is how King described himself, as “a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” The likeness of King is spot on, too. (By the way, am I the only one who thinks that the image of King in the monument looks eerily similar to John F. Kennedy’s pose in his presidential portrait?)
The “stone of hope” looks like it was carved out of the “mountain of despair.” It’s a visual connection between the past and the present, and a testament to King’s legacy. With an accompanying waterfall to compliment the peaceful atmosphere, and once the cherry blossoms being put in place bloom …awesome. Just awesome.
After leaving the monument, I started observing the place and taking pictures of the quotes starting on the right wall. The biggest pet peeve I had about the walls was that other tourists kept walking up in front of me. People were so rude to others trying to take photographs. People either walked in front of the quote or in front of the camera. But I’m glad I got pictures of and with the quotes, because the first one I saw was exactly what everyone needed to read.
So, to everyone who feels that only an African American should have designed and built the King Memorial, I present you with a quote from the good King himself: “If we are to have peace on Earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
Are we really going to continue squabbling over what race gets the credit for designing the memorial, a petty argument over entitlement and pride when there are so many other issues we could be debating about? King would be worried about why are there so few African American male teachers. King would be worried about what can we do about the famine in the Horn of Africa. In the end, it is a beautiful dedication to justice, freedom and equality. Maybe there is a backstory to the memorial’s making that we do not know. Maybe it was cheaper to go to China to have it done. Maybe Harry Johnson, CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Foundation, liked sculptor Lei Yixin’s work so much he appointed him to do the monument. And he did a fantastic job. That’s it.
King was an advocate of Love for all Mankind, one of the principles of Alpha Phi Alpha. If you didn’t know, Dr. King was a brother of Alpha. Only the oldest and the coldest black fraternity for college men in America. A 1952 initiate of the Sigma chapter at Boston University, King’s dedication was a proud moment for the fraternity that has been putting the pieces in place for this memorial since 1986. I am also an Alpha and I met 4 brothers on Tuesday at the memorial.
As I reached the end of the memorial, I received a text from my line brother Kideem asking me if I was ok. I was puzzled because I didn’t know exactly what he was talking about so I responded ‘What happened’. What happened next, I would find to be the reason behind the text and it changed the course of the rest of my day. As I reached the end of the memorial, suddenly I could literally feel the ground under my feet rising. Everyone, and the MLK memorial was packed with people, I mean everyone stopped what they were doing and just stood where they were for a few seconds. We all had to be thinking the same thing, “Did what we think just happened really happen? There’s no way there could be an earthquake in DC, right?” So they kept on with our day. I got myself some more pictures and left. I didn’t like what I had just experienced. Something about the ground shaking unsettles me for some odd reason, go figure.
As I was leaving the memorial, my mom was calling me and I had missed it. I tried calling her back but my phone was dropping calls. I tried calling or texting about everyone in my phone. Texts were going through but not phone calls. Texting is fine, but hearing someone’s voice is so much more comforting sometimes. It was a scary moment. I then decided I needed to go home immediately. Everything at the Mall was shutting down anyways. Security was not letting people go up the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, not to mention the Reflecting Pool was being gutted and reconstructed. I called my mom like 10 times, finally got a hold of her and she said that all federal buildings had been evacuated. She was headed home. My dad didn’t pick up the phone for like an hour, and later he said he didn’t get my texts until hours later. My friend who came with me on the trip had to use my phone to call her mom because hers had died. I got the text from Kideem, who lives in Virginia, about the earthquake before I felt it myself. Think about that: the best way to throw modern society into a frenzy would definitely be to take out telecommunications. We feel lost without our iPhones, Blackberrys and Androids.
The streets were filled with people. Police were directing traffic through the maze of downtown D.C. I don’t know if this guy had planned to be there or if it was a spur of the moment thing, but a random guy in a suit with a megahorn was on the corner shouting statements of Apocalypse and repentance.
The Metro station was packed. The trains made me sympathize with the sardines. On the train, a creepy old guy with dingy gray hair and an untamed beard wearing a striped dress shirt and waist high greenish gray pants kept staring at me out of his squinty eyes. And the train moved 15 miles an hour. Just great.
Finally, after at least a two hour commute that normally takes about 45 minutes, I’m home. My mom is safe and the news is reporting that the Washington Monument has a crack in it due to the earthquake. Immediately, hundreds of jokes sprung up about the Monument (“The Monument isn’t the only crooked thing in Washington!) but the MLK Memorial remained untouched. That’s just like King–in the midst of imminent danger, he still stands his ground.
The 5.8 earthquake that hit D.C. was just the beginning of our troubles. Hurricane Irene was predicted to ravage the East Coast. The Dedication Weekend has been cancelled. Everything scheduled for Friday is going to happen, but Saturday and Sunday are going to be rescheduled. I’m glad I was able to get out there when I did.