“We must use time creatively,” MLK, Jr.

January 17, 2011

Last week I was in DC delivering a keynote to a group of educators—superintendents, principals and vice principals. The event theme, Turning Problems Into Solutions, is the subtitle of my book, Pink Bat. My challenge was to inspire the audience to embrace creative thinking, look at “problems” in a new light, and to provide tools they could use to motivate the many teachers they influence. The client had great expectations… and I had only 45 minutes to make it happen. I’m happy to report the audience was wonderful, and based on the feedback, the event was a success. It seems I made my 45 minutes count…

Since Anne was able to join me, we decided to stay an extra day and explore our nation’s capital. We walked a good ten miles, taking in the many sites DC has to offer. At some point we found ourselves climbing the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And then, unintentionally, we both stopped short of reaching the massive marble statue and bowed our heads… eighteen steps short to be exact. With heads bowed, we read the inscription engraved in the step, “I HAVE A DREAM. Martin Luther King, Jr., The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.” My mind raced and I became overwhelmed with emotions. Without thinking about it, we found ourselves standing on the very step from which Dr. King delivered his historic speech.

After a moment… I honestly don’t know how long we stood there… we eventually made our way up the remaining steps and listened to the National Park Ranger’s presentation. While his presentation was informative and the monument was inspiring, I couldn’t stop thinking about Dr. King. I returned to the step and stood directly on it. Looking out over the National Mall, I closed my eyes and traveled back to 1963. I was five years old when Dr. King shared his dream, but I remember it vividly… watching it on a black and white TV screen, hearing it repeated on the radio, listening to adults and kids discuss it as I tried to reconcile his words, their words, and my thoughts about the turbulent times. Dr. King was then… and remains… one of my heroes.

I opened my eyes briefly to take in the entire scene before closing them again and trying to remember the words spoken here some 48 years ago. He conveyed so much in such a profoundly eloquent and compelling way. But it was the end of his speech—the part where Dr. King departed from his prepared notes and improvised—when his vision became known to the world. Apparently, Mahalia Jackson, an African-American gospel singer, prompted him by shouting, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” And tell us he did.

When we returned to our hotel that evening, I looked up the “I Have a Dream” transcript and read the words several times. Then something profound struck me. In this iconic speech, this brilliant man masterfully referenced numerous biblical allusions, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” an old Negro spiritual, and so much more… all in seventeen minutes! What more can be said?

Me and My Drum

December 25, 2009

chicago_christmas_street_105208_lYesterday I was in a store doing some last-minute holiday shopping when The Little Drummer Boy started playing. It’s magical how music can shift your mood and reconnect you to people, places, situations and feelings you thought you had forgotten.

When I was around six years old, my sister and I used to perform The Little Drummer Boy together. Connie is seven years older than me and played piano. I sang and operated the sustain pedal. Since The Little Drummer Boy was the only song we performed, December was our busiest month. Connie had a larger musical repertoire, but most of her songs didn’t require vocals… or so I was told. Had I only known “Alley Cat” had lyrics, we could have doubled our set list.

Our primary audience consisted of my mom, dad, brother and dog—in various combinations. (Note: Were it not for my love of animals, Punky, the meanest dog I’ve ever known… may he rest in peace… would not be included in this story, nor considered an audience member.) Since the piano was adjacent to the kitchen, my mom heard us perform the most. Read more