A Time To Take Stock
By Mary Giunca/Media General News Service
Published: January 20, 2009
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—The imminent inauguration of the nation’s first black president represents a time for the American people to take stock, said an award-winning actress and political activist.
Ruby Dee delivered the keynote speech for the Martin Luther King Jr. ceremony last night at Williams Auditorium on the campus of Winston-Salem State University.
Her speech was part of the ninth annual joint MLK Jr. Day program between Winston-Salem State University and Wake Forest University.
“Apathy can no longer be part of our vocabulary,” Dee said.
About 900 people turned out for the wide-ranging talk that combined elements of a sermon, a performance and a poetry recitation.
Dee spoke about her years working with Martin Luther King Jr., her experiences as part of Harlem’s artistic community and her hopes for the country’s future.
Dee was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but considers herself a product of Harlem, where she grew up and began her career as a member of the American Negro Theatre.
Her most recent roles have been in the film American Gangster with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, and Steamroom with Dick Anthony Williams and Ally Sheedy. Also, she was in the television production of Their Eyes Were Watching God.
In the early years of her career, she and other black people in the arts had a simple goal, she said.
They wanted to offer something other than the available stereotypes of black people as backward.
The arts, she said, became part of the civil-rights struggle.
“We wanted to show the American people that we had a command of the arts that qualified us as human beings,” she said.
Dee and her husband, actor Ossie Davis, worked with King and saw how he was driven by his dreams of equality.
“A dream is a harsh task master,” she said.
Obama’s election is a continuation of King’s work, she said. It’s a call for Americans to set themselves on a new course and live up to the country’s ideals.
She asked that everyone think about how they can become involved and make the country stronger.
Theo Howard of Winston-Salem said he brought his three children to see Dee.
He particularly liked her encouragement for people to view the Obama presidency as an inspiration to improve things.
But it was as much Dee’s eloquent presence as her message that he wanted his children to appreciate.
“I didn’t want them to miss the opportunity,” he said, “to see an icon.”