Tuesday, January 20, 1998
Did we make progress on King's dream?

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Several years ago, a young woman - who had just graduated from college, so she knew just about everything there was to know - told me our company's black employees should have been given the day off.

''Out of respect for Martin Luther King,'' she explained.

It was his birthday.

I reminded her that we were employed by a media company. We observe most holidays by coming to work and complaining about federal employees who do not. In fact, we draw lots to see who gets Christmas off, I said.

Widow remembers

Furthermore, I continued gently, just in case she grew up to be somebody who could fire me, I think the idea is for all of us to observe the Rev. Dr. King's life. Did you think that only white people are allowed to shop the sales on George Washington's birthday?

The Rev. Dr. King's birthday is an equal-opportunity, American celebration, one of the few holidays we haven't used as an excuse to sell merchandise or eat ourselves into a stupor.

Still. And it has been 30 years since the Rev. Dr. King died, 35 years since he gave his ''I Have a Dream Speech.'' I listened to that speech again in the cavernous Hyatt ballroom Monday morning. His words, now familiar, can still move a crowd to tears. Just as they did in August 1963.

And I refuse to believe that his day is not for me, too.

''Martin made everyone feel important,'' said his widow, Coretta Scott King. She was speaking with Susan Taylor, Essence magazine editor and keynote speaker Monday at the King Day Breakfast, sponsored by the Arts Consortium and the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Ms. Taylor recounted a telephone conversation with Mrs. King. ''She told me about when she first met him.'' He was a little guy and, at best, a C-plus student. ''He is a reminder of all that is possible.'' Dhana Bradley-Morton of the Arts Consortium lighted two candles. One for the Rev. Dr. King and one for the Rev. Maurice McCrackin, the civil-rights activist who died this month at 92.

Black and white.

Life and art

I poked around at my scrambled eggs and wondered what the Rev. Dr. King might have accomplished if he'd lived to be 92, insted of 39. Would his dream have come true by now? And I looked across the table at Ed Rigaud, executive director of the proposed National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Another dream.

DreamWorks movie mogul Steven Spielberg and Debbie Allen worked together to tell the story of Amistad, a rebellion aboard a slave ship in 1839. They needed each other.

At WCPO-TV, a room full of people last week previewed the made-for-television movie Just Passin' Through, set in Washington, D.C., at the time of Dr. King's ''Dream'' speech.

Filmed in Cincinnati - at a house in Wyoming, Tucker's Restaurant in Over-the-Rhine and Losantiville Country Club in Pleasant Ridge - it was produced and directed by Jim Friedman. Mr. Friedman, who has won more than 40 Emmys, says the one-hour drama includes the work of a ''purposefully racially mixed crew.''

Mr. Friedman, who is white, worked with Luther Gibson, who has 26 years' experience as a producer and director. Mr. Gibson is black. They needed each other.

Premiering Monday night on WCPO (Channel 9), Just Passin' Through will be repeated Saturday, Feb. 14, at 5 p.m.

''Whites and blacks came together for a lofty goal,'' Mr. Rigaud says about the Underground Railroad. ''We should be able to do it again.''

''There are 3 million people who are homeless in this country. Children are going to school in broken-down buildings,'' Ms. Taylor told the crowd. ''The good news is that, together, we can fix things. And we are each other's keeper.''

So, if you didn't celebrate the Rev. Dr. King's birthday Monday, it is not too late. And there's still plenty to do.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

PULFER ARCHIVE