Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in the Arts: My Favorites

I tend to prefer "favorites" lists over "best of" lists. In fact, both are subjective, but the latter poses as something authoritive. My favorites are the things that resonate with me emotionally, things that touch the heart as well as the mind and the spirit.

So, in keeping with the theme of this blog, here are some of my favorite things from the world of the arts in 2011.

Adele, "21" - CD. The young Brit soul songstress, who made a memorable debut a couple of years ago with her album "19", conquered the world with her electrifying sophomore CD. If CDs had grooves, I would have worn them off this bold, brave, heartbreaking work of art. With her unique sound and powerful vocals, Adele has risen to the top of my favorite female vocalists list.

Clay Aiken, "Bring Back My Love" - single. And here's Adele's male counterpart, the most distinctive and versatile voice among the men in pop music. Clay Aiken continues to defy all attempts to categorize him. He just doesn't fit into any box - or into any era, for that matter. "Bring Back My Love" is both retro and timeless, and Clay can find the heart of a lyric with the best of the song stylists. Released at year's end, look for this one to peak in 2012.

"The Descendants" - motion picture. Another strong, layered, interesting performance by George Clooney, the Cary Grant of the new millenium. As the head of a family dealing with personal tragedy while deciding on the sale of a land trust in Hawaii, he's strong, handsome, goofy, broken and always more than he seems. Director Alexander Payne leds a fine cast through this comic tragedy of family, love, loss, tradition and starting over.

"Drop Dead Diva" - television series, Lifetime. Charming, funny and wearing its heart on its sleeve, "Diva" ended its strong third season with its core characters more interesting than ever, and with a great list of guest actors adding to the fun. Catch up online before season four!

"Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson - biography. I was saddened by the loss of the visionary co-founder of Apple Computer, but after his death I realized I knew next to nothing about him. I'm grateful for this detailed biography which reveals the man in all of his complexities and shortcomings. Jobs was brilliant, and the products he invented and inspired are thoroughly integrated into my life, making it better. Thanks, Steve.

"The Mountaintop" - theatrical drama written by Katori Hall (pictured above). A riveting imagining of the last night in the life of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King (Samuel L. Jackson) and a stranger who brings him some surprising news (Angela Bassett). Ms. Hall's play, which premiered in London, won the 2010 Olivier Award for Best New Play. This one has been lighting up Broadway, selling out night after night and receiving rave reviews. Don't miss it. Note: "The Mountaintop" will play the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in NYC through January 22, 2012.

And a special valentine for "The Artist", which proves that a brand new silent, black-and-white film, made in the classic style, can be as
entertaining and engaging as any Imax 3D extravaganza - or more so. See this film!

Thanks to all of the artists who brought joy to my life in 2011, and for them and my readers, a Happy New Year in the arts - and all aspects of your life - in 2012!

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” - Thoughts on National Coming Out Day

Three years ago, at about the same time, I found out that three people I enjoyed, appreciated and admired were gay.

They were author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, comedienne Wanda Sykes, and singer Clay Aiken.

That they are gay and lesbian made not a scintilla of difference to me.

I am a woman. I am an African American. I am a lifelong human rights advocate. There is little that is more important to me than for each and every person to be afforded the opportunity to make the most of his or her own life, while being their own authentic selves.

And yet I know that, for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT), the simple fact of who they are can cost them their friends, their families, their places of worship, their jobs, their housing, (until recently) their right to serve the country – and even their lives.

That, to me, is why National Coming Out Day is so very important.

While I don’t tend to think that a person is straight by default, I also don’t tend to give a lot of thought to the sexuality of people with whom I’m not personally involved, especially not that of people in the public eye who I know only from the talents they share with the world.

And so I thought a little about three very different human beings, at different stages of their lives, from different backgrounds, upbringings, religions, philosophies, and personality types, who came to the decision that “the power of truth and living honestly is very liberating.”

I thought about a life in hiding: hiding an essential aspect of self, hiding who you love, hiding who you are. I thought about an old favorite song in a new way:

How can I even try?
I can never win
Hearing them, seeing them
In the state I'm in
How could she say to me
"Love will find a way?"
Gather round all you clowns
Let me hear you say

Hey you've got to hide your love away

Maurice Sendak (author and illustrator of Where The Wild Things Are, In The Night Kitchen, Outside, Over There and many works for television and stage) was 80 years old when he came out, a year and a half after the death of psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn, Sendak’s partner of fifty years. In a New York Times interview, asked if there was anything he had never been asked in his long career, Sendak responded, “Well, that I’m gay,” adding, “I just didn’t think it was anybody’s business.”

Sendak, the son of Polish Jews, lives in New York City. He says (and I have no doubt that he is right) says that the idea of a gay man writing children’s books would have not been well-received when he was starting his career. The artist, though, is so intensely private that he not only did not tell his parents he was gay, he never told his elderly mother that he had had a heart attack when he was 39.

Though there might have been some noise out on the fringe, I do not recall any negative reaction to Sendak’s coming out. For as much as Sendak claims to hate people, he has earned a spot as a beloved literary icon. As far as being gay, the world might not have known, but he was out and in the open within his circle of artists and friends.

Wanda Sykes (actress, comedienne and Emmy Award winning writer) was 44 when she came out. In the aftermath of the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which stripped lesbians and gays of their existing right to get married in the state, Wanda found herself so enraged that, without planning to, she revealed that she was a lesbian and had just married her partner Alex the month before under the previous California law.

She told the crowd at the Las Vegas GLBT Center, "I don't really talk about my sexual orientation. I didn't feel like I had to. I was just living my life, not necessarily in the closet, but I was living my life."

"Everybody that knows me personally, they know I'm gay. But that's the way people should be able to live their lives."

But because of the passage of Proposition 8, she said “I felt like I was being attacked, personally attacked — our community was attacked."

"Now, I gotta get in their face. I'm proud to be a woman. I'm proud to be a black woman, and I'm proud to be gay."

Wanda, whom was born, raised and educated in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C., is the dauighter of an Army colonel and a banker. With a degree in marketing, she spent ten years working for the National Security Agency before moving to New York, later opening for Chris Rock and then becoming a writer for his show. Wanda has written a book and has starred in several comedy specials, as well as having many roles in television and film.

Sykes and her wife Alex are now the mothers of twins.

The reaction to Wanda coming out was overwhelmingly favorable. Though some people claimed that they knew all along, despite the fact that Wanda had been married to a man for seven years, she received a lot of support from the LGBT community as she raised the profile of her activism, doing PSA’s for GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) and receiving a GLAAD Award for promoting a positive image of an LGBT person in media.

Clay Aiken was 29 when he came out, a month after the birth of his son Parker Foster Aiken, whose mother is record executive Jaymes Foster. Appearing with his infant son on the cover of PEOPLE Magazine, Clay said that “(Coming out) was the first decision I made as a father. I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things. I wasn't raised that way, and I'm not going to raise a child to do that."

Photo by A. Cotton

Clay was raised a Southern Baptist in a conservative family in Raleigh, North Carolina. (In his 2004 inspirational memoir, Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life, Clay self-identified as a Democrat and as a progressive.) In later interviews, he said that he thought he was a late bloomer, then later thought he might be bisexual, before accepting that he was gay in 2003. (Clay said that growing up. he only knew of a few very flamboyant gays in Raleigh and since he was not like that, did not believe he could be gay.)

When interviewed for a cover story for Rolling Stone magazine in the summer after he completed American Idol, Clay had said that people did not know what to make of him because he was “not gay or a womanizer.” That throwaway line (he had not yet told any of his family or friends in Raleigh that he was gay) became a point that some in the press continued to harp on. Clay did not repeat it: in fact, he later told Larry King and others that he was not going to talk about his sexuality anymore because “people will believe what they want to believe.”

The birth of Clay’s son was the tipping point for the singer, who by 2008 was also out to those in his personal and professional life. Fan reaction was mixed, from those who shrugged and went on with their plans to see Clay on Broadway, to those who were surprised but quickly adjusted, to those who reacted as though personally betrayed.

For some reason, media reaction was less welcome than it had been for Sendak, Sykes or the others who came out in that year. There was a degree of sneering “Of course” (as if Aiken’s sometimes over-the-top comic style was any more or less flamboyant than of say, Robin Williams or Jim Carrey, both straight at last notice.) There was even someone* who foolishly said it was too little, too late, as if Aiken had somehow missed the memo that he was overdue for his debut at the coming out cotillion. (*This man later wrote that gay actors can’t play straight roles, so consider the source.)

Before coming out, Clay never denigrated members of the LGBT community, he never worked to block their rights or make their lives a single degree more difficult. I will never understand how negatively some reacted to his coming out. Perhaps, even though some stood in his shoes, they did not believe he could be both gay and Christian. Perhaps their erroneous assumption (made despite ample evidence to the contrary) that Clay was some arch-conservative reactionary colored their thoughts.

Clay has gone on to be an advocate for LGBT issues, particularly as it applies to young people. He has testified before Congress for GLSEN on the importance of building a safe school environment for students of all orientations and backgrounds. In addition to his continued support of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Clay has received an award from the Family Equality Council for presenting a positive face for gay parenting, spoken at the HRC’s gala and been a presenter at GLAAD’s Media Awards. None of this surprises me. One of the things I admired most about Clay from when I first “met” him nearly nine years ago was how fearlessly he uses his voice for those who have been marginalized by society.

In concluding his speech before the Human Rights Campaign's Carolinas Gala last year, Clay said:

The LGBT community has seen and attained unprecedented visibility and legitimacy in mainstream America. We have a great deal more work to do to ensure that LGBT individuals and families have the same rights, benefits, same freedoms that all straight Americans have. And I know that my son's world will be a better one, because no one, no matter how hard they try, can stop our progress.

And like those civil rights movements that came before, our message is the message of fairness, of righteousness, of decency. Our message is the message of the future.

Our time is now, and it is about damn time.

Tony Award-nominated actor Chris Sieber (“Monty Python’s Spamalot,” “Shrek The Musical,” “The Kid” and much more) was a cast-mate of Clay’s when Aiken made his Broadway debut in “Spamalot.” In an interview with The Advocate, when asked his reaction to Clay’s coming out, Sieber replies “Clay's a dear friend of mine, and of course I knew. He was quite open with me, but he has a lot to protect. (When Clay came out) I texted him and said, ‘Good for you. Welcome home.’"

Welcome home. That phrase, for me, is the heart of it.

No one should be told that it is too late for them to come out.

No one should be mocked, ridiculed or put down for their timing of this intimate and life-changing decision.

No one should have to fear that they will lose their job, be thrown out of their homes, be harassed at school, be condemned by their famnilies and friends.

No one ever should have to fear for their safety or for their very lives.

No laws should inhibit any person’s ability to pursue our founding principles of life, liberty and happiness.

No one, no adult and certainly no teen, should feel that it will get worse, not better, that there will be no one to welcome them and no place to call home.

I am not a member of the LGBT community, so I can’t join Chris Sieber in saying “Welcome home” to those who come out today, or in the days to come.

But I can say –

You are, as always, welcome in my life and welcome in this world we share. I will be there to lend whatever support I can, to embrace you instead of condemn you, to show that I appreciate your value as a fellow or sister human being.

And I am so very glad that never again will you have to hide your love away.

Clay Aiken’s keynote speech to the 2010 Human Rights Campaign Carolinas Dinner, Raleigh, North Carolina, February 27, 2010

Wanda Sykes addresses a rally supporting same sex marriage, LGBT Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas on November 15, 2008

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

83rd Oscars: Franco, Hathaway, Youth and Legends

Time for the little gold man!

The 83rd Academy Awards, hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway, will be televised live nationwide on ABC at 8 Eastern / 5 Pacific tonight, Sunday, February 27. I make films for a living, but the Oscars are always a kick - a chance to root for favorites, discuss the fashions and check one's predictive powers.

I'm not an Academy member though, as a member of the Directors Guild, I had a chance to cast my vote for our directing winner, Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech"). My votes for the Oscars are strictly for fun and, since I'm still working my way through last year's films, here I'll just share a few impressions of what caught my eye in several categories.

It's cool that Franco and Hathaway, gifted and likable actors both, have been chosen to host this year. They've made interesting choices in their careers and have demonstrated considerable acting chops, elevating them far above the just-another-pretty-face crowd. Choosing a male and female duo to host for the first time in Oscar history brings other layers of possibility to tonight's telecast, so get your popcorn ready.

For so many years when I was a movie-addicted kid, hosts like the wisecracking Bob Hope were older than this year's hosts ages combined. But part of the age difference being touted this year is an illusion: across film history, many of the stars we "remember" in black-and-white or as their older iterations were 20- and 30-somethings (the impossibly sexy Lauren Bacall was just 19 when she asked Bogie if he knew how to whistle, and 1963s Best Actor, Sidney Poitier, had just turned 36.) Still, I look forward to Young Hollywood shaking things up a bit, celebrating and tweaking Hollywood traditions.

The envelope, please:

Actor in a Leading Role
Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
Colin Firth in “The King's Speech”
James Franco in “127 Hours”

My impressions:

I've loved Jeff Bridges since I was a kid, and he remains one of my favorite actors. Consider the perfect actor/director/writer choice of introducing Rooster Cogburn with only his voice through the outhouse door and his decidedly unglamourous reveal, gut peeking through dingy longjohns - no Hollywood glitz there. More than anything, I love the authenticity and integrity he brings to this unsentimental but touching portrayal. Bravo, Jeff.

I wasn't familiar with Jesse Eisenberg before "The Social Network" and I came away from the film absolutely riveted by what he had done in a quiet and unassuming performance. Jesse creates the undercurrents of his character so convincingly in a role where he barely raises his voice, laughs or cries. It's a conplex and layered depiction that has stayed with me.

Colin Firth can do no wrong. Okay, I'm kidding, but I've liked this guy for a long time and I'm always impressed by what he has to offer to each role. He's not as strikingly handsome as some of his Brit contemporaries, nor as flashy, but there is something very deep and solid in all that he does, as well as a hint of the unexpected. As Bertie, there is heartbreak and fear and hope and strength, all in a role where he rarely speaks clearly - but is entirely understood. It's a brilliant job, and my choice for Best Actor.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone”
Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
Geoffrey Rush in “The King's Speech

At his Golden Globes acceptance speech, Christian Bale said something that applies to his role in "The Fighter" and Geoffrey Rush's in "The King's Speech." Flashy, over-the-top characters only work when grounded by quiet, realistic ones, so much is owed to the actors Bale and Rush are playing against (Wahlberg and Firth). Both bring the yin to their opposite number's yang, both remain in the shadows of the men they know, and both bring knowledge and power that help the hero achieve his glory. Wonderful actors in memorable roles, but I'm giving this one to Bale.

Actress in a Leading Role
Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter's Bone”
Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”

I'm a complete slacker in this category this year, so I'll go with Natalie Portman's passionate, fragile portrayal of Nina. The already slim Portman's choice to lose weight, coupled with a year's intense training, makes her convincing physically as a prima ballerina, but all of those emotional layers are what make the role. Talk about disturbing! About a millenium ago, I used to act and dance a bit, and I got used to going all out for a role. Nina takes that about half a million steps too far. It's a fascinating, dark look at art turning to obsession.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham Carter in “The King's Speech”
Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

My favorite thing about Amy Adams is her versatility. She's made me laugh, made me think and made me cheer for her in various portrayals. In "The Fighter" her love and support for "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) helps ground his character and gives added dimension to the entire movie. More fine work from a future Hollywood legend.

Helena Bonham Carter as the loving wife of the future king is not just a support for her man. Bonham Carter is too interesting for that. There's always something sly and strong in whatever she does, and I like that I can feel her determination and her spirit. Nicely done.

I've been a fan of Melissa Leo since her days on "Homicide: Life on the Street" and I'm delighted to see her making a mark on motion pictures. As Alice Ward, she's raw and honest and not at all prettied up. It's a fierce and fearless portrayal, with no interest in being likable. I'd call her the frontrunner for to Oscar.

The Coen brothers have a gift for introducing a character. From the first words she spoke, I knew Hailee Steinfeld was much, much more than a precocious child actor. She inhabited Mattie Ross with the strength, conviction and authenticity (that word again) that are essential components of making this film work. In the scene where she bargains to be paid for her father's horses, she reveals an intelligence and maturity that makes it believable that this young girl would risk all to avenge the death of her father. Here's a 14 year old with a bright future - and it might start tonight, if she takes home the Oscar in an upset.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
“127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
“The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
“Toy Story 3” Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
“True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
“Winter's Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

I've been an absolute fool for Aaron Sorkin's writing since "Sports Night". I love intelligent writing, and Sorkin's elevated reality makes me interested in everything he does (including this film, which didn't impress me in trailer form but knocked me down when I saw it.) I think he writes conversations better than any other contemporary writer. I'm handing the Oscar to Aaron.

Writing (Original Screenplay)
“Another Year” Written by Mike Leigh
“The Fighter” Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson;
Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
“Inception” Written by Christopher Nolan
“The Kids Are All Right” Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
“The King's Speech” Screenplay by David Seidler

Much has been made of how time is telescoped and events are tweaked in "The King's Speech," but that's a really fine script. I enjoyed the no-nonsense integrity of "The Fighter" as well, but I think "Inception" is brilliant. Bucking the trends and going with Nolan.

“Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky
“The Fighter” David O. Russell
“The King's Speech” Tom Hooper
“The Social Network” David Fincher
“True Grit” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

I'm glad to have seen all five films in this category. I'm torn on this one. Aronofsky created a disturbing masterwork, Russell told the truth and avoided the bathos, and the Coens reigned in their brilliant fantasias to create a great Western for modern audiences. I cast my vote for DGA's best director this year for Tom Hooper ("The King's Speeech"), but there is something about David Fincher's work in "The Social Network" that is sticking with me and becoming more and more impressive in my eyes. I have a feeling that film and director honors might split this year. We'll see!

Best Picture

(Editorial note: Ten Best Picture nominees and five Directing nominees? Which of these pictures directed themselves? There's always been something kind of goofy about Director and Best Picture nominations not being tied together, and it seems even stranger to return to ten pictures nods and have half as many for directors. Oh, well, the best part of this is that smaller films without money machines behind them will now get some recognition - and there's twice the chance for an upset.)

“Black Swan” Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
“The Fighter” David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
“Inception” Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
“The Kids Are All Right” Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
“The King's Speech” Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
“127 Hours” Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
“The Social Network” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ce├ín Chaffin, Producers
“Toy Story 3” Darla K. Anderson, Producer
“True Grit” Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
“Winter's Bone" Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers

"The King's Speech" is a great traditional movie; "The Social Network" is a great modern one. Either would be well-deserved, but as time goes by, what I like best about "King's Speech" is the acting and the story. What I like best about "Social Network" is, like the subject in the title, the innovation.

I choose "The Social Network."

(I've not written about the technical awards, but my hope is that Roger Deakins will finally win for his breathtaking and brilliant cinematography for "True Grit." It would be about damned time.)

Find everything you need to know about the history of the Academy Awards here at the official Oscars website.

For breaking news on this year's Oscars, and to follow along during the broadcast, go to

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Friday, February 25, 2011

George Harrison and UNICEF: "Help us save some lives"

George Harrison was more than a singer and songwriter, more than a guitarist, more than a part of The Beatles, arguably the most influential band in rock history.

George was a passionate humanitarian and advocate for children. In fact, according to UNICEF, the Concert for Bangladesh (organized by George and inspired by sitar legend Ravi Shankar) "marked the first time rock musicians collaborated for a common humanitarian cause," raising both awareness and money to assist the ten million people of Bangladesh who were victims of flood, famine and civil war.

I loved that man.

Today would have been George's 68th birthday.

2011 marks the 40th anniversary of the Concert for Bangladesh. On August 1, 1971, George, Ravi, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell and Billy Preston came together, using their musical talents to help raise funds for people in dire need. Imagine what it would have been like to be there!

George used his fame for a cause higher than himself. He wanted his music to inspire people to do more than tap their feet.

He succeeded on both counts.

Six years ago, a permanent fund was set up in his name, with a goal of continuing assistance to the people of Bangladesh, as well as other places where a child's survival is threatened.

The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF is a joint venture between the Harrison family and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF that aims to support UNICEF programs providing lifesaving assistance to children caught in humanitarian emergencies. --- UNICEF

As someone who admired George, it means alot to me to see that his twin legacies, music and activism, live on, so many years later.

The need still exists.

My friend came to me with sadness in his eyes
He told me that he wanted help before his country dies
Although I couldn't feel the pain, I knew I had to try
Now I'm asking all of you to help us save some lives

--- from "Bangladesh" by George Harrison

Were you inspired by George Harrison? Do you want to help save some lives?

Click the highlighted link to Support the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF

Visit the United States Fund for UNICEF for further information.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Movie Awards Season: In and Out of Hollywood

The 83th Academy Awards will be broadcast on ABC on Sunday, February 27th, live coast to coast: 8 PM Eastern, 7 PM Central, 5 PM Pacific. The show's hosts are actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway.

Watch the nominees being announced and try your hand at selecting the winners at the official website for The Oscars.

It's always interesting to compare and contrast the movies selected to be honored for Film Independent's Spirit Awards. Hosted by Joel McHale, the Spirit Awards will be shown on IFC on Saturday, February 26, at 10 ET/PT.

There was a time when films like "The Kids Are All Right" and "Winter's Bone" would have been much more likely to receive critical acclaim and indie recognition than Oscar nominations, so there's been some merging of the two aesthetics over the years.

I'll be writing more about the nominated movies before the award ceremonies.

Check out both groups of nominees, and add a comment here.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Dangerous Unselfishness: On Martin Luther King and Service

The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., lives in my childhood recollections. He looms larger than presidents and potentates, his voice ringing through the corridors of my memory.

Dr. King made me believe in possibilities, not just for what a little black girl in Pasadena could become, but for what I could do for others.

Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. --- The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was a shy kid, but Dr. King's call to action urged me to make the most of my life. I reached out beyond myself, sought out a diverse group of friends and associates. My friend Sara taught me about Jewish traditions, my best friend Lee and I both reached beyond our cultures and attended the Japanese Obon Festival, and my friend Richard, the dancer, showed me there was no reason to fear or dislike a person for being gay.

Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God.

If the cause was just, it did not matter to me if the cause was "my own," because I was learning that all just causes were mine. Still years shy of being able to vote, I joined the protests against the recall of our school board members who had voted for integration, I worked with other students helping to rebuild our school's theatre building that had been destroyed by arson, I raised my voice against the war, and I stood with those fighting for human rights: women's rights, civil rights and gay rights.

Little gestures. It was a start.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

In the twenty years following Dr. King's death, I graduated from UCLA, became a member of the Directors Guild of America, travelled to explore other peoples and other cultures.

And I remembered The Dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave voice to.

But MLK was never just a dreamer. He was a man of action: mobilizing, inspiring, marching, striking, accomplishing. And he was my reminder to ask myself, "What can I do?"

Either we go up together or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.

What is this "dangerous unselfishness" King spoke of?

It is dangerous to challenge the status quo, dangerous to shatter the limits of tradition, dangerous to "be the change you want to see in the world."

Sometimes the danger is to self, to be sure, but I believe that a commitment to unselfishness is dangerous to selfishness, dangerous to greed, dangerous to hatred and exclusion.

It is far more dangerous not to change and grow, because nothing stays the same. It either thrives or shrivels.

I've done well in the world of work, but the money I've made has not enriched my life anywhere near as much as the service I've given. I wish I'd done more. I'm still in the act of rising above my confines.

A day of service is a wonderful start and a potent symbol, but it is not enough. We need to make this holiday honoring Dr. King's dreams and actions Day One of years of service, a philosophy of unselfishness.

Disturb the complacent. Look beyond limits. Serve.

To build a better city, a better country, a better world, embrace the transformative act of a life of service.

Dare to be great.


A few resources:
Volunteer Match

A Better Community

United Negro College Fund

Habitat for Humanity Intl.

National Inclusion Project

U.S. Fund for UNICEF

Give A Damn Campaign

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