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Dana Farber celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King, 50th Anniversary, Civil Rights Act

Dana Farber Cancer Institute remembers Martin Luther King

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Yesterday while volunteering with the Cultural Observances Committee at Dana Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), I met an incredible gathering of patients, family, friends, staff, medical professionals and health advocate leaders who celebrated the Fiftieth Anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act.  I knew this would be no ordinary cultural observance when at the opening, this cheerful coterie began to perfectly sing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”  by James Weldon Johnson. It was like listening to a mastered recording from the Harlem Gospel Choir.  Ok there were a few pros like actor/singer Cheryl Adamick of New Dimension Church of Providence, RI.  Seemed everyone knew every word and every note... except me.  If this hymn, often called “The Black National Anthem” doesn’t move you, you don’t know your history. Do they teach this in our schools? 

Can you believe it was fifty years ago, 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson signed one of the most compelling pieces of legislation that helps make us a better nation?  During his prepared introductory comments, DFCI's President and CEO Edward Benz, MD noticing not much gray hair in the audience kidded the enthusiastic, engaged crowd when he asked how many had actually been around in 1964?  I’ll admit I remember it well, as one of my best years in high school, a few years before the ’67 Red Sox. More important, growing up in the fifties and early sixties in a small rural New England town, I knew little about Dr. Martin Luther King and the need for the Civil Rights Act.   

In September of ’64 Dr. King spoke to the freshman class at his alma mater Boston University.   He came to BU to donate his personal papers.  Now looking back, did Dr. King anticipate his assassination?  Such donations are typically made posthumously.  I remember this event because of a high school English grammar class project.  We were to “objectively report” on these events and learn why Dr. King drew such large crowds “a mile of marchers” when he came to Boston, the city to which he proudly referred as his second home. It was then, I began to learn, still learning.

In his credible, conversational style, Dr. Benz described how America was changing dramatically on so many fronts during the 1960’s. Dr. Benz gave a gripping recap of some of the events leading to the Civil Rights Act and more important some much-needed history and changes that Martin Luther King enabled through his effective communications skills, vision, leadership, style and ability to change minds.  He then introduced Jackie Jenkins-Scott, President of Wheelock College. 

It was fun to hear Dr. Jenkins-Scott let us know she was only in her teens at that time. Yet she gave us a concise history lesson as she remembered real-world events and gave commentary from great research about Dr. King available to all.  She noted that Dr. King would have celebrated his 86 birthday this day and asked us to remember his brother, our brother Nelson Mandela who was sentenced to life in prison, fifty years ago, 1964 for his leadership role as an anti-apartheid revolutionary, political activist, who rose to become President of South Africa . 

I can’t do her profile and presentation justice in this short blog, but will urge readers to “check out” Dr. Jackie Jenkins-Scott, an experienced, effective health advocate leader, an innovative accomplished educator, and President of nearby Wheelock College “with a mission to improve the lives of children and families”. The list of her earned accolades is very long.  

We do well to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, the continued Civil Rights Movement for all Americans and to thank Dana Farber Cancer Institute for a much-needed infusion and reminder.

Comments

From Virgil Simons | On January 17, 2014 @03:01 am
Great perspective, Jack, and in keeping with Dr. King's legacy. The main point that is often forgotten is that his crusade extended well beyond "civil rights", but encompassed "human rights" on a global scale. It would be interesting to have him with us today during this struggle for healthcare equity.

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