By now, forty years after his famous speech, it's a pretty safe bet that every hill and hamlet has heard of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream for racial equality. Africa Williams, who grew up with a picture of the slain civil rights leader in her bedroom, is no exception.
But for Williams, the national holiday is about more than remembering King's legacy of nonviolent protest and his endless faith in the potential of humanity. Realizing Dr. King's dream, she says, requires people like herself to become agents for social change. Oakland, where violence is part of daily life for many residents, is a good place to begin, she says. She estimates that in the last seven months there have been at least five murders in her neighborhood, including one man who was killed across the street from her West Oakland apartment complex.
Founded in 1989, the Attitudinal Healing Connection (AHC), a crack-house-turned-community-center at the corner of West and 33rd streets, seeks to eliminate violence by promoting social well-being through personal emotional health. The nonpolitical, nonreligious West Oakland nonprofit offers respite and communion via its weekly support group for people in crisis, a monthly drum circle, and a communal "forgiveness" garden. The AHC also offers diversity training, workshops, and ArtEsteem, a children's art program that integrates creativity with social activism in projects such as "Shoot Cameras Not Guns" and the "Superhero Theme," where kids create superheroes mighty enough to address social ills. "This is the place to be," Williams says, "if you want to learn how to live in harmony."
On Monday, January 19, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church (1188 12th St., Oakland), the Attitudinal Healing Connection and the University of Creation Spirituality will host the sixth annual "Making the Dream Real" Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. The free event -- part of "Oakland Celebrates the Dream," a host of community events commemorating Dr. King's 75th birthday, happening throughout the city from January 9 through 27 -- will include an African libation ceremony, presentations from local artists and musicians, comments from activist and poet Rafael Jesus Gonzales, and an awards presentation to young activists working to make the dream real in Oakland communities. For more information about Making the Dream Real, visit AHC-Oakland.org or call 510-652-5530. Call 510-444-CITY for a complete listing of "Oakland Celebrates the Dream" events.
While Williams has been involved with AHC for only four months, the Bay Area native has a long history of getting involved in social movements. She also works with the West Oakland Health Center and local elementary schools, telling such African-American folktales as "The People Could Fly." Declares Williams, "You can never get tired of telling people about their potential." However, her mission -- in common with the holiday itself -- is personal. "My activism," she explains, "is to show my children what they can do, instead of what they can't." Ultimately, she hopes the event will not only get the word out about the AHC, but will sound a call to action. "Activism is about getting dirty," she says. "It's about getting out there and doing the work yourself." A sentiment Dr. King would surely agree with.
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