Dr. King, Paris, and a Beautiful Escape

Josephine Baker (Small)

August 28, 1963.

50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of the most rousing and important speeches in American history. He had the ear of thousands around the U.S., both black and white, and in those few moments he inspired a nation to be better, to do better, and to dream bigger and better than they had ever done before.

Throughout the day, I listened as children spoke about why, a half-century later, this man was so important to them. I watched as President Barack Obama stood in the very same place as Dr. King had stood 50 years earlier and honored him with words of sincerity and gratitude, not only as America’s first African American President, but also as a realization of a dream that had been dreamt so long ago. I watched, I listened, I experienced the different discussions, the songs, the ringing of the bells, the beautifully delivered speeches… all in the name of Dr. King.

I, too, wanted to honor him.

This being my only platform, I wrestled with ideas of how to mesh my admiration of Dr. King with the purpose of this blog in a relevant and meaningful way. I couldn’t let this moment go by with only a “lesson learned” post to show for such an amazing moment in time. But I had absolutely no idea of what to write.

Then my mind brought back to remembrance the winter of 2011 in Paris, France. Waiting for our tour guide, we stood shivering on the streets of Paris on an early, overcast morning. I watched with total surprise as people walked past me with loaves of fresh, unwrapped bread in their bare hands. I enjoyed watching the mundane activities of the Parisian people. What was so special about that moment, however, was the sign that stood before us: Place Josephine Baker. I wasn’t well versed on the life of Ms. Josephine Baker. What I knew of her came from beautiful photos of her entertaining various audiences, a movie that told of the ups and downs of her life, and the brief honors paid to her for the doors she opened for African American entertainers both in the U.S. and abroad.

That day, we journeyed through the streets of Paris with the sole purpose of walking in the same footsteps famous African American writers, artists, and intellectuals had walked decades before our arrival. Hotels. Restaurants. Book shops. Cafes. We saw where they laughed, loved, worked, we saw how and where they lived their lives. It was so amazing to learn about the large number of Black people from the U.S. who went to such a foreign land as Paris, learned the language, and made it their home. Josephine Baker. Richard Wright. James Baldwin. They had done what I have only imagined myself doing at some point in the far future.

The difference: Paris was their escape.

It was their escape from a place where, as Dr. King stated in his famous address, they were

“crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”

Richard Wright (Small)

It is this difference and this fact in which I give an honor to Dr. King that is most relevant to both my passion and the objective of this blog. Because of his unwavering hope and belief for a better future for African Americans, his peaceful marches, and most of all his sacrifice, I can dream of owning a small Parisian apartment overlooking the Latin Quarter for no other reason than because of its beauty. Because of Dr. King and the countless others who fought beside him for my rights as a human being, Paris, London, Rome, Austria serve merely as escapes from my 9 to 5 and the mundane ins and outs of my everyday life. When I return home from these beautiful, foreign lands, I come back to a place where the only person, place, or thing that stands between me and my hopes for the future are not water hoses, angry, biting dogs, or hooded men with fire. It’s just me and my ability to push past the internal fear of failing.

So, today I honor Dr. King for securing my rights in this country so that I may travel to different lands for a simple, beautiful escape and (maybe) return home again to a place of which I am truly free.

Eiffel Tower (Small)

For more information on the tour I took of Black Paris, please visit Walking the Spirit Tours: Black Paris and Beyond.

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