A Good Omelet: The Arts Consortium and MLK

Namesakes are fallin' out in the aisles. The Arts Consortium of Cincinnati dodged a bullet when it changed the name of its Dr. Martin Luther King Day Breakfast, assuaging itself for holding the eve

Jan 15, 2003 at 2:06 pm

Namesakes are fallin' out in the aisles. The Arts Consortium of Cincinnati dodged a bullet when it changed the name of its Dr. Martin Luther King Day Breakfast, assuaging itself for holding the event in the downtown boycott zone despite protests from Martin Luther King III.

But they're still in the crosshairs of character. And what of the rest of us?

Whether you revile or respect the economic boycott called to caulk disparities acid-refluxing since Officer Stephen Roach killed Timothy Thomas, I know you joined me in a collective wince when King III publicly said green-lighting the event would be "a defilement" of his father's dream.

The man's got a point. And he does care for us, unlike other so-called black leaders who do drive-bys on our anguish, lighting down long enough to whip and then dip.

Martin the Younger bookmarked us in his subconscious. He's paid house calls here several times since Thomas' death. And we, of all people, have the nerve to recycle an event in his father's name.

We've trademarked lethargy, and we're asleep at the wheel.

I mean, have we been nodding out during all those wretched Black History Month programs? This is what happens when we grow accustomed to King's face as a means to a (financial) end without taking seriously the implications of going through the slow motions that desecrate his sacred dream.

King moved the boycott into the Express Lane of social consciousness. He also said if we take money from one thing we must put it into something else.

The event could have been moved in the same time — four days — it took King to request the Arts Consortium to cancel the breakfast and their announcement of its name change. It could have been moved months ago.

How about in November? That's when King e-mailed Mayor Charlie Luken and wrote the Consortium to literally beg them to "use every possible means to prevent such a planned event." Consortium Executive Director Sharon D. Hardin said the board discussed the boycott and the city's problems.

I guess a discussion is an action, sorta like planning to think. At least they responded.

Ah, Negroes are a reactionary lot. And sometimes even pitiful.

Hardin is right when she says her group can't afford to negate their major fund-raising event. She's telling the truth when she says the city cut the Arts Consortium's funding. (She's fudging, however, when she said in her press statement that King called for a name change. He always wanted a cancellation. Big difference.)

After 30 years, you'd think the Consortium would have learned to attack other major funding sources by now and build a reserve. Doesn't anyone there know that arts funding is dignified begging?

Black folks like to think our deficiencies are unique because they're colored deficiencies. Every arts group in town existing without Your Big Name Benefactor Here struggles for funding.

The Arts Consortium long ago backed itself into a paternalistic corner whereby turning on the lights comes down to selling a good omelet. And where are the big-money Negroes in this city — its athletes, financiers, attorneys, judges and media owners — who could give and give bigger?

Such donations would show everyone — from city council and the Collaborative Agreement Monitor to the homeboys in Over-the-Rhine who feel forgotten and the big-money white boys who assume we're incapable of caring for one another — that we can indeed handle our business.

It'd show 'em that we don't just pimp the names of our heroes to make ourselves feel warm and fuzzy about being middle-class. Cohesion on that level means community, a word now as blasphemous and divisive among us as nigger.

I don't blame the Arts Consortium for going ahead with the breakfast smack dab in the main aorta of the boycott zone. Neither am I angry with them for (slyly) changing the name.

But it all speaks volumes. Peel back the layers of blithely co-opting Dr. King's name year in and year out without any challenges to the basic concept of his legacy.

It's true that black arts outlets in poor black neighborhoods have disproportionately added burdens. You're expected to stem black teen pregnancy, cure AIDS, put a loving black father in every home, eradicate crackheads and sellers and sprinkle self-love on the heads of all black babies within your reach.

Art saves us. And black art baptizes us in consciousness and rhythm.

But you knew that going in. See, you're more than what you are.

Come Monday, you'll be less than what you could be.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.