Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reclaiming April 4th


Considering that the 235 years of American history occurred through a series of 365-day years, 366 tops, it’s inevitable we remember any given date for more than one reason. Pick a date, any date; the American calendar is crowded with coincidences.

April 4 was one of those dates. For more than two generations that date has been seared into the American consciousness for the worst reasons. That was, of course, the date in 1968 when we lost Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to the savagery of an assassin’s action, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

We tend to trace our history with such final, terminal milestones. What we as a nation seemed to lose that day —our faith in the institutions that make this country what it is and what it purports to be, our sense of the grand American possible — wasn’t lost after all. But that national optimism has been in and out of intensive care ever since.

By happenstance and by design, this April 4 was rescued somewhat from its grim associations. On the 2011 edition of that date, we could shift our vision from the rear-view mirror to the road ahead for examples of how this nation is living out the true meaning of its creed.

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On Monday, in an e-mail and a conference call to supporters, and with logoed ads that hit the major Web sites, President Obama officially launched his re-election campaign.

“We're doing this now,” he said in the e-mail, “because the politics we believe in does not start with expensive TV ads or extravaganzas, but with you -- with people organizing block-by-block, talking to neighbors, co-workers, and friends. And that kind of campaign takes time to build. ...

“We’ve always known that lasting change wouldn't come quickly or easily. It never does," Obama e-said. “But as my administration and folks across the country fight to protect the progress we've made -- and make more -- we also need to begin mobilizing for 2012, long before the time comes for me to begin campaigning in earnest.”

David A. Love, writing in theGrio on Monday, distilled what’s facing the president in the next eighteen months: “President Obama must channel the justifiable anger of the base, independents and disaffected Republicans, and show that he will stand up for their issues and against these regressive, reactionary policies of the right wing. … Despite Obama's tendency to split the difference, find common ground and break bread with his political adversaries, the president must not legitimize Republican overreach by allowing them to control the political narrative.”

But for all that, it’s impossible to overlook the unspoken sweetness of this dovetailing of April 4 and American history. For all the challenges President Obama faces for his re-election, you can’t help but think how the work of Martin Luther King, ended 43 years earlier, was instrumental in the first African American president even having the option, the relative luxury of running for re-election to the highest elective office in the nation and the most pivotal executive position in the world. The president of the United States stands on the shoulders of the preacher from Atlanta.

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A captive of his era, and speaking in the context that he could understand, King rhetorically framed the debate over equality and justice in terms of black and white. But new population figures released by the Census Bureau at the end of March show how and why the American racial experience will no longer be rendered in shades of duotone.

The overall percentage of non-Hispanic whites declined from 69.1 percent in 2000 to 63.7 in 2010, a sharper drop than previously predicted, the Census Bureau reported. Stunningly, the minority population increased from 30.9 percent in 2000 to 36.3 percent in 2010.

The United States Hispanic population in 2010 reached 50.5 million people — up 47 percent in 10 years, the agency reported.

And in a disclosure that could have implications for the 2016 race, if not next year, the new census figures find that 46.5 percent of people under 18 are minority, up considerably from the 39.1 percent in 2000.

In a March 31 piece on “The New America,” National Journal’s Ron Brownstein wrote that: “As recently as last summer, demographers projected that minorities would make up a majority of the under-18 population sometime after 2020. At the current rate of growth, however, nonwhites will comprise a majority of children in the United States by 2015.”



Brookings Institution demographer William Frey told Brownstein that the census numbers are “telling us about our future.”

“I see this as a pivot decade,” Frey said. “This decade what we’re seeing is, these Hispanics and Asians are really crucial to our country because they are juxtaposed against an aging white population. It is really the new minorities — Hispanics and Asians — that are driving where we’re headed.”

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The emergence of a new and different United States has changed the power players of the future. It’s time for entrepreneurs regardless of race or gender. Martin Luther King III and Andrew Young have sensed an opportunity to go where others have tread and maybe still make a difference.

Thanks to them, the crowded field of black-oriented television channels is about to get more so. On Monday, King and Young announced the fall 2011 launch of Bounce TV, promoted as “the first 24/7 broadcast television network created exclusively” for a black audience.

Like any self-respecting TV launch in modern times, Bounce TV will go after viewers between 25 and 54, the holy grail sweet spot of advertisers. The network will present a blend of theatrical motion pictures, sports, documentaries, specials, faith-based shows, and original programming.

Bounce announced Monday that multiyear licensing agreements had been secured with NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution for almost 200 films, including “Ray,” the Ray Charles biopic that catapulted Jamie Foxx to Oscar glory; three of Spike Lee’s films, including “Do the Right Thing”; and classic comedies like “Car Wash,” the 1976 classic starring Richard Pryor and George Carlin.

Bounce also has a deal with Sony Pictures Television for broadcasting about 100 of its films, including films starring Denzel Washington (“Philadelphia” with Tom Hanks; “Glory” with Morgan Freeman; “Devil in a Blue Dress” with Don Cheadle), Richard Pryor (“Stir Crazy” with Gene Wilder and :”The Toy” with Jackie Gleason) and other high-wattage stars.

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The Bounce venture is likely to find a need and fill it. Despite such black-focused networks like TV One and BET making inroads in the cable space, broadcast programming targeted at African Americans has fallen by the wayside. It’s not lost on Bounce’s owners that — this just in — not all black American households can pony up the cash for the dish aimed at the southern sky.

“There are nearly 13 million Hispanic television households that are served by dozens of Spanish and Spanish-language versions of networks,” said Ryan Glover, one of Bounce’s owners, in a statement. “Yet, the more than 14 million African American TV households have just a few dedicated cable channels – and no over-the-air networks ... until now.”

In the same statement, Martin Luther King III brings it all full circle. “My father envisioned the day that African Americans would play major roles in entertainment within ownership, not just serve as entertainers on the stage or in front of the cameras. That’s what makes this even more exciting to me ...”

April 4, 1968 was a day of inestimable loss in this country. The tides of demographic change, the power and reach of technology, and a president eager to leverage the content of our national character are all factors in reclaiming April 4 as a day not of an ending, but of a beginning.

Image credits: MLK Selma 1965: © 1965, 2010 Dennis Hopper. Obama: Pete Souza/The White House. Immigration protest rally, May Day 2010: Jim Stevenson. Bounce TV logo: © 2011 Bounce TV. Martin Luther King III: Associated Press.

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