‘What a glorious weekend” was the sentiment of many locals who, like others, connected the King holiday and inauguration of the country’s first president of color. In a flurry of phone calls, e-mails and visits in the bitter cold that ended with a Tuesday evening champagne toast at writer George Bailey’s house, this reporter found warm words describing these historic events. For example, at The Dream Lives On Chicago Sinfonietta concert on Sunday afternoon at Dominican University, a young African-American cellist named Patrice Jackson received two standing ovations. Local civil rights veterans Delores Register, Wendell Rayburn and Flora Green were seen beaming with pride during this inaugural weekend musical tribute.

The next day at this same school, just after she spoke with BBC Scotland about the inauguration, Dominican provost Cheryl Johnson-Odim participated in a panel discussion with theology professor Hugh McElwain, dean Jeffrey Carlson and students Elena Maans and James Tierney on the links between MLK and inauguration day. Dr. Johnson-Odim has been one of the few university leaders to publicly decry Israeli army aggression against Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

The same day, the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine sponsored a vigil in Scoville Park calling for the immediate end to the bloody siege of Gaza. According to Rebekah Levin, a spokeswoman for the event, “Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and in expressing our outrage at both the devastation of Gaza and the ongoing occupation, we are reminded of the words of Dr. King: ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ “

Meanwhile, down Lake Street, at Afriware Books, Gregory Stanton of Dominion Ministries discussed “The Development of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Philosophy during the Obama Era.”

Stimulating conversations occurred with local artists, many of whom are signatories to a petition asking the president to create a ministry of culture. More than 70,000 signatures have been gathered, including that of Ridge Art owner Laurie Beasley, who says, “I am backing Quincy Jones’ petition to President Obama to form a cabinet-level position, a secretary of the arts, to promote the arts in this country. The arts should be part and parcel of any economic recovery act.”

Poet Cynthia Breunlin mused, “I feel it in my bones! He will be good for this country, for baseball, for the arts, for basketball, for education, healthcare … and so many issues.”

And according to writer, musician and actress Alice Brandie Brown, “President Obama – America’s intellectual everyman – can connect with both local and national arts organizations by inspiring the powers that be to understand what Aristotle knew.

“The arts are important to the intellectual growth of a populace. Art can be cathartic and it can spur discussion on many topics that are important to people. So, it is important that arts councils both nationally and locally are funded by a government interested in the humanities.”

Stan West, an Oak Parker for 16 years, is a former foreign correspondent for Pacific News Service. He is an author, educator, filmmaker and human rights activist. But his favorite job, he says, is being a parent.

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