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Brickner: MLK, Fargo, and me

Brickner shares her impressions of “Umoja ’53 - A Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.” at the Fargo Theatre.

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Joan Brickner, Forum Readers Board
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On Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday, I watched, streaming, the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition presentation “Umoja ’53 - A Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.” at the Fargo Theatre. “Umoja” means unity in Swahili, and that was the theme of the night.

I had hoped the event would serve as a foil for the strange, sanitized version of King we see promoted, where even those opposing voting rights reduce him to a speech or claim King as their own. I found the event valuable.

Within the enclave of the restored, Art Deco theater, talented young singers, dancers, and a poet performed. It was good to see young people connect to King.

Community leaders were also honored.

I connected to Dustlynn Kaine-Aipperspach, a young West Fargo teacher. I was impressed by her love for her students.

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She made me think of my own grade school years. I benefited from having Black teachers. Early on, I saw education was not off limits for me.

Reading a memoir by Philip Yancey, I see how valuable it is for whites, too. Growing up in the South, he was fed a “catechism” about black inferiority, the cursed children of “Ham.” But, participating in a summer internship, he learned something beyond his discipline. He writes,

I have no idea how to act around a PhD in biochemistry from an Ivy League school…So I diligently study the various procedures involved in his specialty: the Ziehl-Neelson acid-fast stain, Loeffler’s alkaline methylene blue stain, the Wayson stain, and others way over my head. When I show up for work the first day, I get a photo ID badge and am escorted to Dr. Cherry’s office. The security guard knocks on the door, hears “Come in,” and opens it. I nearly drop my pack of papers on the floor. Dr. Cherry is a Black man.

It was the beginning of a shift in him, away from lies.

I was most impressed by Dr. Terry Hogan, the new director of diversity, equity and exclusion for the city of Fargo. His topic was “What Does It Mean to be Free?”

Dr. Hogan cited examples of historic injustice, but he also encouraged: “We all know change doesn’t occur overnight, nor does acceptance for some….But Dr. King had a belief in us all having common ground. It took courage and love to achieve that goal.”

Hogan adds, “It takes time and hard work for individuals to continue chipping away at the path that had been cleared by those before you. Freedom should be inclusive. I recognize that I have been born in a great country with freedom that many take for granted.”

“…It takes all of us to work together. I do not take for granted the freedoms I have but recognize that it is my duty to continue that work to help spur the transformation of inclusive freedom that has only just begun establishing roots.”

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Christianity threaded through the event, as it was the core for Reverend King. It seems fitting to remember a Franciscan benediction: “May God bless you with anger…Anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, anger, so that you will work for justice, freedom, and peace.”

Click here for more from InForum columnist Joan Brickner.

Interested in a broad range of issues, including social and faith issues, Brickner serves as a regular contributor to the Forum’s opinion page. She is a retired English instructor, having taught in Michigan and Minnesota.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

Opinion by Joan Brickner
Interested in a broad range of issues, including social and faith issues, Joan Brickner serves as a regular contributor to the Forum’s opinion page. She is a retired English instructor, having taught in Michigan and Minnesota.

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