Mary Frances Berry headlines a grand buffet of lectures, classes, candlelight vigils, art exhibits and service projects marking America's first holiday post-New Year's, Martin Luther King Day.
Speaking as part of Carnegie Mellon University's day-long MLK event Jan. 19, Berry is chairperson of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, an independent bipartisan fact-finding agency she's headed since 1993, and a professor of American social thought at the University of Pennsylvania. She caught media attention most recently when she was able to thwart what she felt was an undesirable appointment by President George W. Bush to the Civil Rights Commission -- and when she found herself on the wrong side (at least from MLK's well-known view) of a dispute with workers. Thousands of Berkeley residents charged Berry with trying to dismantle a Bay Area listener-sponsored radio station, KPFA, when she chaired the Pacifica Radio board that owned KPFA. When board members, station managers and deejays publicly discussed questionable Pacifica policies -- against a gag rule Berry imposed on employees -- she and the board had employees censored, locked-out of the station, fired and in some cases arrested. The board also authorized spending a substantial amount of listener-donation funds to hire armed guards to surround the KPFA station to enforce their decisions. Berry has since resigned from the Pacifica Board.
Her talk Jan. 19, "Where Do We Go From Here: Human Rights in Crisis Times," caps the afternoon's free, public CMU program, beginning with the "State of Diversity at CMU" address by President Jared Cohon at 12:30 p.m., a community forum led by CMU Director of Diversity Everett Tademy, YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh CEO Cecilia Griffin Golden, Allegheny Conference and Affiliates CEO F. Michael Langley, Islamic Center of Pittsburgh Director of Outreach Dalia Mogahed and Service Employees International Union Pittsburgh Director Gabe Morgan.
CMU will also recognize winners of the campus's Creative Writing Program's Martin Luther King poetry and essay contest. MLK Day activities also include a puppet show, and children's book readings, as well as art exhibits, documentary films about King and a community service registration drive.
Other organizations across the city are marking the holiday:
- At the Mattress Factory museum in the North Side, "a dream of peace" is hosted annually by the National Conference for Community and Justice, a national nonprofit battling bigotry and encouraging multi-cultural cooperation through education. The region's longest-standing King commemoration, "a dream of peace" includes a storytelling performance by local dancer and puppeteer Alison Babusci as well as activities by author and teacher Sandra Gould-Ford (who specializes in quilt-making and photography) and staff members of the New Yinzer and New Pittsburgh Courier. Museum tours and art projects are also on offer. The afternoon is capped by a story circle, during which participants will recall stories from the Civil Rights movement.
- Pittsburgh Cares and the Allegheny County's Promise, both nonprofits that recruit volunteers for community service groups, have teamed to make the King holiday "a day on, not a day off." MLK Day begins with breakfast at the Center for Creative Play in Regent Square, followed by a "servathon," in which hundreds of volunteers will be dispersed to schools, donation centers, scout camps, soup kitchens and shelters to carry out King's mission. At the breakfast local performer Margot Bingham, a ninth-grade Pittsburgh schools student, will sing her original King tribute, "In My Dreams."
- This year, Americorps' King services will have added meaning. Last week, one of their members, Carma Reed, was shot and killed. Americorps program coordinator Sharon Williams says Reed's commitment to working with kids in their program was peerless, and she will be honored during their King assembly. Americorps' events, to be held at the Downtown YMCA, include an oratorical contest, trivia games, readings by community leaders, arts and crafts, and dance performances.
- The University of Pittsburgh's Black Action Society will begin their King festivities early. On Jan. 15, Jeffrey Johnson, executive director of the Stay Strong Foundation, which provides education endowments for black communities nationwide, will speak. Johnson was the national director of the youth and college division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The public can paint "Expressions of King" on campus Jan. 17. The weekend also includes volunteer service projects and a tour of historic locations in the Hill District. On Jan. 19, the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity will hold a candlelight vigil in front of the Cathedral of Learning.
- Perhaps the best place for Mayor Tom Murphy and suburbanites to resolve their storied racial differences is the seventh annual Black and White Reunion. This year it features Dr. Stephen B. Thomas of Pitt's Center for Minority Health, speaking on health care justice as the new frontier for civil rights. The day includes workshops and forums dedicated to solving issues of racism within our region and the ill feelings brewing between different neighborhoods and sections of the county.
CMU: Berry address, 5 p.m. For other info, call Susan Cribbs, 412-268-2900 or visit www.cmu.edu/mlk/.
"dream of peace": Free. Call NCCJ, 412-281-1237 or visit www.nccjpgh.org.
Pitt: Call 412-648-7880.