“If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. But be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Martin Luther King Jr.
If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I hope I’ve emphasized that the Cakeway to the West project is about more than just art to me. I’m not sure if I’ve shared one of the stories that is one of the big reasons why, though.
When I photographed this cake in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue at Fountain Park, an older (not sure I want to use the word elderly, but close to it, at least), gentleman stopped to talk to me. He wanted to know if I was officially involved with Stl250 (sadly no), and if I had seen some of the other cakes at some of his favorite places. Your basic cake-related small talk that takes places over many of these installations.
But then he said something that humbled me and touched me in a way that I didn’t expect a public art project could. He thanked me, for photographing the cake and the statue. Because he’s afraid that people will forget Dr. King, and he wanted to thank me for my role in keeping his memory alive. Here I was, just taking a picture of cake in its setting, but to him, I was doing something so much bigger, something with lasting value.
I think that was the day (May 25, if you’re keeping track), that I realized that this is about more than just art, or a scavenger hunt, or even celebrating St. Louis’ birthday. It’s about stories. The stories of the city, and the stories of the individuals who live here. These stories (and seeing the places that go with them), have truly changed my life. I’ve tried to hear as many of those stories as I can as I’ve traveled the metro area, but none have stayed with me the way that conversation on a Sunday afternoon in May has.
Some words from Martin Luther King Jr., on the celebration of his birthday:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” From his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.
In a real sense this afternoon, we can say that our feet are tired, but our souls are rested. I stand before you this afternoon with the conviction that segregation is on its deathbed in Alabama. March 25, 1965, following the march from Selma, Alabama, to the state’s capital in Montgomery, in the aftermath of the “Bloody Sunday” assault.
We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. April 4, 1968, on the eve of his death.