Monday, January 19, 2009

On MLK Day

Reposted from 2008

My career has certainly taken some twisty turns. I've gone from working most holidays, including 20 of the last 25 Christmases, to getting OFF on holidays, including today's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I didn't know what to do with the time off, but did take a little time to reflect on Dr. King and his "dream."
I remember the 60s and 70s well. I remember the turmoil our country was undergoing. I remember how Dr. King's influence possibly prevented untold violence, yet also still started the movement and change of attitudes and laws.

Three things happened to me today to bring it home. I was headed to town to run some errands when I heard a remarkable story by former Southern California Basketball Coach George Raveling, one of my most admired coaches. I was listening to my MP3's shuffling during my daily bike ride, and up came Champion Jack Dupree's Freedom. Finally, I cheered as the New York Giants made the Super Bowl because my friend, Jerry Reese, the Giants General Manager had attained the highest level of his profession.

I always admired Coach Raveling because he really did teach his players as much about life as he did about basketball. When I used to work with Tennessee-Martin Basketball coach Cal Luther, I remember George Raveling agreeing to a "home and home" with the Skyhawks. That was VERY rare for a small school like UT-Martin, but Raveling thought it would be educational for the UTM kids to come to Los Angeles, and likewise for HIS players/kids to visit the rural South. He was right. The UTM players got to experience LA on their visit, and the USC players, including Harold Minor, who was a highly touted college player at the time, came to West Tennessee and learned a little about life between the coasts. What I didn't know until today, was that Raveling has the original draft of King's "I Have A Dream" speech. I heard Raveling interviewed on ESPN radio. Raveling was there and volunteered as a security guard. It's a facinating story! One of the most interesting things which came out of his story was the revelation that the "I Have A Dream" concept was ad-libbed. The great Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was behind them on the podium and started yelling, "Tell em about your dream, Martin," and THAT'S how the concept came about. Later, Raveling says Martin met with President Kennedy and he kept saying how much he admired that "I Have A Dream" speech and the press seized upon that as the title of the speech.

Champion Jack Dupree has long been one of my favorites. His "Freedom" is one of my favorite songs. It talks about Martin Luther King, Jr and how he led the way for racial freedom and equality. He sings about how children learn to play the black and white keys on the piano to make "harmony." It's truly inspirational.

I've known Jerry Reese for years. I first met him when he was an assistant coach at UT Martin in the 80s. I was always struck by how dedicated, organized and hard working he was. Later, when I met my future wife, Bridget, I found she was a classmate of his at Lake County High School in Tiptonville, Tennessee. Like me, she thought the world of Jerry. As a quarterback, Jerry led Lake County to a state championship. All the kids in school loved him. To be around him, you couldn't help it. They voted him Mr. Lake County High School! Briggy told me how at that point, a teacher (& in this case I use that term loosely) called some of the kids in and warned them that "they better think about what they were doing" by voting Jerry Mr. LCHS. The kids wound up upset that a teacher would even raise that issue. Well, they DID think about what they were doing and that's why they thought there was no better candidate for Mr. Lake County High School than Jerry. As the clock wound down in Sunday's NFC Championship game, and the Giants punched their ticket to the Super Bowl, I thought to myself, " Yep..he's proven himself as Mr. LCHS again!" Jerry wasn't the 1st African-American GM in the NFL, and he'd be the first to say it shouldn't be an issue in his case. As usual, of course, he's right, and that's the greatest tribute to Dr. King's legacy. Because of Dr. King, it's not that big of a big deal. Dr. King's work opened the door for Coach Raveling, Jack Dupree, Jerry Reese and millions of others. We haven't achieved the totality of "The Dream" yet, but we're on the way.

Gosh, I hope the Giants beat the Patriots.....

* of course the Giants did beat the Patriots, and we received an e-mail from Jerry, "We did it!" Tomorrow we're set to inaugurate our country's first African American President. We're still not there, but we're still on the way.

1 comment:

Rink's Ramblings said...

I have a George Raveling story of my own. Back in the mid-70's when Raveling was coaching at USC his talented Trojans came to Allen Field House to play my beloved Jayhawks. Back then the students sat directly behind the opposition bench. I was fortunate to have my own season tickets just a few rows up behind the scorers table. I was riding Raveling pretty good but nothing vulgar or racial, just good nature razzing. Somebody in the student section about a dozen or so seats over must have dropped the "N" bomb on him because he whirled around and started staring at me and coming up into the stands. He was one unhappy man and fortunately one of his assistants grabbed him and pointed toward the real culprit. Raveling was a trailblazer and one heck of a coach.