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As we reflect on the theme of “Bending the Arc” this morning, we remember all those who have gone before us in the long and arduous struggle for civil rights.
Presented by Piedmont Appreciating Diversity (PADC) and the City of Piedmont
January 15th, 2018; 12:00-2:30 PM
Coming together for 21 years to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., this year’s memorial celebration will focus on the work we must continue as a community and our individual abilities to “Bending the Arc” towards Dr. King’s vision of a moral universe of inclusion, equality and justice. The program will feature inspiring performances by:
Speakers include the Honorable Barbara Lee, U.S. Congresswoman, 13th District of California, and the Honorable Tony Thurmond, CA Assemblyman, 15th District.
Piedmont Veteran's Memorial Hall
401 Highland Ave, Piedmont CA 94611
Last week, the MLK Day Celebration hosted by PADC and the City of Piedmont drew more than 300 people from Piedmont, Oakland and beyond. They heard talented student performers and our city and state leaders beautifully express themselves on the challenges of continuing the civil rights work of Dr. King. We at PADC are grateful to be part of a community that creates a space every year to celebrate and reflect upon the transformative work of Dr. King, reminding us that his work – and our work – is not yet done.
Unfortunately, an incident occurred at this event that made some of our invited guest feel very unwelcome in our community. A few minutes before the OSA Chamber Choir took the stage, Choir Director Cava Menzies and her students suffered a verbal assault from two audience members. (You can read more about this here on our website.) We at PADC know that many in the Piedmont community, like us, were mortified by this poor treatment of guests at our event, but what’s worse is that it’s not the first time visitors have felt unwelcome – even unwanted - in our city.
You may have read in in this newspaper about teenage students of color stopped and questioned because a resident thinks they looked “suspicious,” and the calls to the police from those feeling threatened by a gardener’s truck parked on their street. But you may not be aware of what PADC hears all too often: an African-American resident afraid to go running at night because of how his neighbors might react, or the black family celebrating their child’s birthday in one of our parks that elicits a call to the police. There is also the sentiment – even among visitors who don’t experience such treatment - that Piedmont is intolerant of “outsiders,” especially outsiders of color. Or the feeling voiced by colleagues in Oakland that "Piedmont definitely has diversity, race, and privilege issues."
We have work to do. We need to ask ourselves questions: Who lives and works in our community and how do they experience Piedmont? What causes people visiting our city to feel unwelcome? What are the qualities that drew us to Piedmont and are they extended to all? And how exactly how do we want to be perceived in the larger community (Oakland and beyond)?
There are many ways to address these questions. Community organizations from parent clubs to houses of worship can add such discussions to their agenda. School district leadership, teachers and parents can reflect on how and whether diversity and inclusion are taught in their classrooms and in their homes. Oakland is a source of diversity and leadership in social justice; we can make a conscious effort to build broader ties between cities and host joint events. Finally, we can ask ourselves how well we know those in our own community, and reach out to our neighbors.
PADC is committed to spurring our community as a whole to discuss and reflect upon questions that the MLK incident and many others like it have raised. We hope you will join the conversation.
Kobi Eshun and Alison Feldman
Co-Presidents, Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee
On Monday, January 18th, a few minutes before the OSA Chamber Choir filed onto stage to blow the roof off the Veterans Memorial Building, Cava Menzies suffered a shocking verbal assault from two audience members. She and her 32 students were packed into the catering galley area off to stage right. This area would normally have been reserved for staging, but had become makeshift overflow seating to accommodate the turnout.
First, one middle-aged white woman walked up to her to say that her students "were an embarrassment and need to learn some respect." Then a second woman jumped in saying, "you know, I'm a teacher too. You need to learn to control them. It's not that hard. Make them go outside." All this with her students and their parents watching. In Cava's own words, "It was unbelievable to experience that kind of condescension and entitlement only five minutes prior to us going on stage. I was shocked by the lack of compassion and respect for myself or my students from those particular guests."
Needless to say, this is a horrifying blight on our community. Such condescension and entitlement on a day of celebrating tolerance and humanity — the irony here is grimly poetic. And, of course, this was not just an assault on Cava, but also on the 32 students who had dedicated their day to serve our community by sharing music with us. Let us remember that these students commuted to us from East and West Oakland to participate in our event whose purpose was to promote and celebrate diversity. Is this the message we want to give our young people of color that come as visitors?
You may be tempted to downplay the racial overtones of this incident. Please don’t. What is not communicated in the summary of the encounter is tone of voice, body language, and overall demeanor of both women while speaking to Cava. Clearly, beyond just the language that was spoken, the way in which she was spoken to in front of her students was unacceptable. The specter of two privileged white women vying to put a successful black woman in her place, and to shame a talented group of student performers, most of whom are black, is blatant. The message, "You folks don’t belong inside here” is inescapable. We don’t know if these two women are racist or even if they are Piedmont residents. But the impact of their actions is undeniable. And, unfortunately, this behavior is not completely atypical in our community.
PADC is committed to spurring our community as a whole to discuss and reflect upon these questions. Will you join the conversation?
Congresswoman Barbara Lee is a forceful and progressive voice in Congress, dedicated to social and economic justice, international peace, and civil and human rights. First elected in 1998 to represent California’s then-9th Congressional District (now the 13th), the Democratic lawmaker has established a reputation for principled and independent stands, unafraid to take on the tough issues and speak her mind for her constituents, for a more just America, and for a safer world. As a social worker by profession, she has prioritized advocating for people dealing with the federal bureaucracy.
Assemblyman Tony Thurmond was elected to represent California’s 15th Assembly District in November 2014.
Cava Menzies, founding faculty member at the Oakland School of Arts, will direct The OSA Chamber Choir at our 2016 MLK Day Celebration. The group will perform a selection of powerful songs, opening with Glory from the movie Selma, by Common and John Legend.
Alex Bennett • Lauren Blakely • Jazz Broughton • Isabella Calderon • Genesis Chambers • Isaiah Chambers • Charlotte Cohen • Tatianna Cordoba • Daniel Fine-Salan • Sara Fitting • Satya Hawley • Julianne Horenstein • Anais Leal • Cerica Liam • Chelsea Loftus • Mia Matsuno • Florence Faith Matteson • Arianna Mittelbuscher • Shavon Moore • Michael Mueller • Lyla Neely • Brian Nervis II • Julissa Otenbriet • Divine Pongtorn • Ella Raffael • Caretha Richardson • Nava Rosenthal • Cataleya Sazo • Amy Schaffer • Lily Stevenson • Juliana Tucciarone • Zearah Tyson • Hedda Wikstrom • Asher Witkin • Cicoia Zelie
The Westlake Jazz Band, led by Piedmont resident Randy Porter, will be performing at our 2016 MLK Day Celebration. Members of Westlake's jazz ensemble and orchestra are working together to create music around this most relevant theme of social justice. The selections being played were performed last spring at Yoshi's, and we continually are able to reinforce the message that music is an obvious vehicle to learn about and to effect social change.
Leon Jones: voice, violin • Vernejah Walker: voice • Muwazu Maelianashantipuja Chisum-Misquitta: voice, tenor sax, clarinet • Daniel Martinez: trombone • Ariam Semere: guitar, viola • Peter Bawi: guitar • Jalen Chang: piano • Demi Oliva-Pacheco: bass, violin • Kennice Chen: viola • Miles Turk: drums
We are thrilled to welcome Together We Slam back to our MLK Day Celebration lineup. According to Head Coach John White, "These teens have something to say and they want to talk to you ..."
2 FREE Screenings
The Appreciating Diversity Film Series offers two free screenings of At the River I Stand, produced and directed by David Appleby, Alison Graham and Steven Ross. This poignant documentary set in Memphis, Tennessee during the 1960s, is a narrative about mobilization, determination and tragedy during the civil rights movement. It covers two very eventful months in 1968 that culminate with the success of the unionization of sanitation workers and the tragic death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis.
To promote and practice inclusiveness, foster an appreciation of differences, and raise global awareness within Piedmont and surrounding communities.