Monday, January 18, 2010

How Long Doctor?

A few years back, when I was in fifth grade, we watched a Martin Luther King, Jr. documentary in school. This was pre-MLK day, in an otherwise blue collar conservative upstate New York sub-suburb. Admittedly much of elementary school, shy of memorizing the U.S. presidents (a party skill I still can pull out on demand), is a blur of playground games,  forgetting my homework, and band practice. However, the Martin Luther King Jr. documentary and our reactions to it, made vivid and lasting impressions upon me. As the child of immigrants, being of mixed ethnicity, in a pretty white enclave (and passing for white myself) I remember feeling a strange sort of pride and kinship.  The idea that people of all colors, all religions, all races and genders would someday stand together as equals, while not new to me at that point (being half Indian, the teachings of Gandhi had long been my legacy), moved me deeply and personally. The most resounding memory was from the clip above, in which Dr. King refrains, How long? Not long.  For some reason, maybe our inability as ten year olds to truly embrace and digest the enormity of the movement and ideas, or more likely simply because of the catchiness of the refrain,  it became our "saying", the greeting we used on playgrounds, signed in yearbooks and joked about at least for a couple years. Never teasingly. Never mean spirited. Just simple. Someone would say, "How long?" Another would reply, "Not Long." Sometimes you add brother, or Martin or Doctor.  But the sentiment was the same. Did we understand truly what we were saying or why?  Maybe not but it stuck with me and hopefully with a few others at Sullivan Avenue Elementary School.  How long Doctor? Well, we're certainly not there yet, but I'd venture to say that 40 years later we are a whole lot closer to that mountain top. How long? Not long brother.

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