Press For A Day
Alot of teenagers know the career they want and then for some of us, it changes from time to time. I want to be an investigative reporter, but there have been moments of me daydreaming about standing on the sidelines at some fancy shindig, taking pictures of stars doing their best Ms. America wave. Although it’s not my chosen field of journalism, the urge to go paparazzi just once was becoming more than a fantasy. I wanted to satisfy that urge to make sure I was going into the right field of journalism. I made up my mind that the next major event I attended was going to be as press. The biggest problem was finding something I wanted to attend. I have attended many red carpet events where the purpose of the event gets lost amidst people networking or promoting their own self interests. Most of the time I just want to leave and go home.
I wanted my first journalistic experience to be a positive one so I wasn’t going to pick just any affair to cover. It had to have substance and meaning. While surfing Facebook, I came across an event which caught my eye. It was marketed as MLK Now and was to going to be held on the King Holiday. MLK Now was going to feature historic speeches performed by some of the leading talents in Hollywood today. The event was being produced by Campaign Black Male Achievement, VICE, and Blackout for Human Rights. To be honest, I had never heard of any of those organizations. I was already impressed by them for being able to put together a free program featuring performers that could charge thousands for appearances. Ryan Coogler, founding member of Blackout for Human Rights, was listed as executive producer and co-host of the event. I knew him as the director of Fruitvale and my favorite movie this winter, Creed! The event was going to be held close to where I live, Riverside Church in Harlem where Dr. King performed his famous 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence”. When I clicked on the link to register, it was standing room only. I signed up anyway. Then it hit me.
I didn’t just want to attend this event. I wanted to cover it as press and blog about it for The COREreader. I emailed the event planner requesting a press pass. Low and behold, a few minutes later I received an email confirming my attendance as press. I was ecstatic. Then I started to worry. I didn’t want to cover my first affair using my phone as a camera. My mom tried to make me feel better telling me about all the bulletin boards featuring photography with the iPhone. Doesn’t she know those professional photographers could use a Fisher Price kid camera and make the photos look good? Mom trying to make me feel better wasn’t working. I guess going to buy me a nice Nikon never crossed her mind.
When I arrived at the church on Monday, January 18th, I was a bundle of nerves. As I watched the professionals set up their camera equipment I felt so out of place. I didn’t belong. I knew many people at the event including the head technician of Riverside Church, members of the wonderful activist group Justice League, and attendees who recognized me from my work in the community. I actually had people requesting a photo with me! I still felt out of place. My mother’s advice was to introduce myself to other members of press, let them know it was my first event and be guided by them. When I wasn’t warm to the idea, she left me with the parting words, “Sink or swim. Grow up”.
All of a sudden, I really was alone. I got in the elevator to go to the sanctuary of the church. Imagine my surprise when Ms. Octavia Spencer herself and Michael B. Jordan entered in the elevator behind me. I dared not say a word to them. Ms. Spencer smiled and said, “Hello dear”. I remembered my home training and replied hello back. Mr. Jordan nodded. I smiled but fainted inwardly. I excitedly texted my mom. Inside I was screaming and yelling like a crazed groupie. On the outside I maintained professionalism. I entered into the sanctuary and went to the press area. I was officially covering a major event! One of the members of the press announced #MLKNow was trending on social media. This was it! Time to start swimming.
Most of the MLK events I go to are usually the same. Politicians are in attendance, and they usually talk about the importance of MLK and his movement. However on Monday, January 18, 2016, I experienced an MLK celebration that was so unique and really highlighted the true essence of MLK and the civil rights movement. MLK Now celebrated King Holiday from the artist prospective. From actors to vocalists, all the entertainers embodied what it was like to be a part of the civil rights movement. Each entertainer adopted a significant person and delivered one of their speeches as if they were them.
The lineup of celebrities was incredible and the audience were definitely in for a treat. Ryan Coogler, director and filmmaker of Fruitvale Station and Creed spearheaded the event. He brought along two stars from his hit movie Creed, Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson. Jordan delivered a speech by the assassinated activist Fred Hampton entitled “Power Anywhere Where There’s People”. The speech was given with extraordinary conviction and passion. Chris Rock proceeded after Jordan, joking announcing he was following behind “the heartthrob”. He had nothing to worry about. His performance of James Baldwin’s “My Dungeon Shook” was so compelling that not one person thought of Oscar nominations or Rock being the host. Tessa had me raising my fist in the air when she recited Angela Davis’ “Victory Speech”. Lin Manuel Miranda, known for his star roles in the Broadway plays “In the Heights” and “Hamilton”, played MLK and delivered the speech given by Dr. King during a historic visit to Riverside Church, “Beyond Vietnam/ A Time to Break Silence”. Condola Rashad, actress and daughter of Phylicia Rashad, played Shirley Chisolm and gave her “Presidential Campaign Announcement”. Actor Andre Holland had the audience mesmerized as Malcolm X whose “Police Brutality and Mainstream Media” speech is still relevant today. Tony award winning actress Anika Noni Rose did double duty performing Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” and singing J Cole’s Be Free while he looked on from the audience.
When the great at 88, Harry Belafonte, delivered Patrice Lumumba’s “Proclamation of Independence”, followed by personal revelations of his involvement in the Civil Rights movement, the audience were literally on the edge of their seats. Rounding out the rest of the artistic part of the program, an emotional Octavia Spencer delivering Dr. King’s final speech “Been to the Mountaintop” and Adepero Oduye as Ida B. Wells’ “This Awful Slaughter.”
The program also contained performances by award winning India Arie, poet and activist Karega Bailey, artist Bilal, poet Saul Williams and an unannounced visit by Empire’s Jussie Smollett, who surprised the audience with a heartrending song. There was one tabloid moment when Ryan Coogler’s one on one conversation with J Cole revealed Mr. Cole was married. Although the audience were surprised by the revelation, they were too caught up in the spirit of the program to dwell on the unexpected announcement.
After the performances and speech renditions, a panel discussion was led by MSNBC National Reporter Trymaine Lee. The panel featured Urban Cusp Founder, Rahiel Tesfamariam, executive director of Arab American Association of New York, Linda Sarsour, Million Hoodies Movement for Justice executive director Dante Barry, Filmmaker/Activist and Sankofa.org director Gina Belafonte, and activist Leon Ford, Jr. The MLK Now event became a trending topic on social media and was watched by over 400,000 people on live-stream. I believe Dr. King would have been proud of the way the profound messages of yesterday were presented to the masses today.
If I’m going to become a serious journalist, I must get a professional camera. Covering the MLK Now event was a wonderful experience but I need a career where I can use my activist spirit and make a difference in society. As an investigator reporter, I can reach millions to expose unknown and untold truths.
Many thanks to public relations and event planner extraordinaire Janet Dickerson. My message to Mrs. Dickerson, “A heartfelt thank you doesn’t even seem sufficient enough to express my gratitude but maybe knowing I left a better person coming out of MLK Now than when I arrived will do it. Thanks for the pass.”