Spike Lee was the guest speaker at Loyola's 17th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation last night. He proved to be an excellent choice. Dressed in a Jets cap, black turtleneck with silver crucifix, and jeans, the iconic filmmaker gave a talk that was witty, blunt, provocative, big-hearted, and warm. He started out by noting that exactly one year ago he was "freezing his butt off" at Obama's inauguration and quipped that "some of the shine has worn off" the president. But Lee quickly made it clear he was an ardent supporter of Obama's and steered the talk to MLK and various other subjects.
Over the course of an hour, he riffed about...
Dr. King and his legacy: It’s incredibly important, especially for the young people who weren’t alive. These days, we tend to think of Dr. King simplistically—there’s a holiday, he was assassinated, and there's "I Have a Dream." But we owe it to ourselves to find out what he was really about, so he won’t be marginalized. And there’s no excuse to not find out how he was viewed at the time he was alive. Have you read the "I Have a Dream" speech? See, Dr. King was viewed differently once he voiced opposition to the Vietnam War and started talking about workers’ rights. When he was killed, he was in Memphis supporting the sanitation workers down there, who were mostly black. As a Morehouse man, I became keenly aware of Dr. King and what he stood for.
Busting your ass: Whatever you want to do, you have to do that thing and just keep at it. These horrible, horrible reality shows have you thinking you’re going to be an overnight success. You’re being bamboozled. You have to bust your ass, in whatever you do, to get what you want. I go to bed every night saying my prayers and giving thanks that I get to do what I want to do. Most people on this earth go to a job that they hate.
Dreams deferred: Choose your major based on that you want to do, not based on what’s going to make you a lot of money, and try not to give in to parental pressure. Parents kill more dreams than anybody. I know they mean well, and they just want something better for their children. And I know it’s hard because some children might be the first in their family to attend college. I understand that. But I want to say something to the parents in the room: Young people need encouragement. Think about how you react when your children come to you and say, "I want to do this." I have a 15-year-old son, who plays... ice hockey. [laughter] He plays other sports, but ice hockey is his favorite. Now, I thought, "There ain’t no black kids playin’ hockey." But there are. And he loves it. I get up at 6 am to take him to his hockey games and watch him out there scorin’ goals. So, as a parent, I’ve had to keep myself in check.
Diversity: According to the U.S Census Bureau, by 2040, whites will be a minority in this country. That’s not me sayin’ it. That’s not Al Sharpton sayin’ it. That’s not Jessie Jackson sayin’ it. That’s the Census Bureau sayin’ it. A smart university will realize this now. A smart business will realize this. If you wake up in 2040 and realize it, it’s too late.
U.S. culture: The U.S. dominates the world, not because of atomic weapons. It dominates the world because of culture: rock and roll, hip-hop, Levi’s, Coca-Cola, and films.
Lee finished by critiquing American mythology that passes for history and telling the audience he would "answer intelligent questions"--which he did for another 45 minutes, even though a few of the queries fell short of his criterion.
[photo: John Lewis]