By Elaine Ayala : January 6, 2014
SAN ANTONIO — 2013 was a tough year for race relations. For as many incidents of racial unity and progress, well illustrated by San Antonio’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. march , the city’s new, non-discrimination ordinance and a young mariachi singer who poured his heart into the national anthem at the NBA Finals, other events showed how much disunity and bigotry remains.
Beginning with the searing divisions surrounding the Trayvon Martin murder case to the vitriol over immigrants, undocumented or not, and Latinos, newcomer or U.S.-born, hatred spilled onto newsprint. Even the Associated Press’ decision to stop referring to immigrants as “illegal” — since actions, not people deserve that descriptor — gave voice to prejudice and ignorance.
Then there was the bogus TV report about the pilots of the downed Asiana flight, the debate over the Washington Redskins’ team name and A&E’s decision to pull then reinstate reality-TV star Phil Robertson from its popular show “Duck Dynasty” after his comments about African Americans and gays.
Gratefully, San Antonio will continue to set an example in 2014 on how to get along, or at least make it look that way, during DreamWeek, San Antonio’s 12-day celebration of tolerance, diversity and equality that begins Friday and runs through Jan. 21.
It’s only DreamWeek’s second year, but its umbrella now covers more than 60 disparate events, including a Quaker silent meeting, a photography exhibition and screenings of films about the civil rights movement.
Four members of the Freedom Writers will speak in San Antonio as will scholar Michael Eric Dyson, author of “April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr.’s Death and How it Changed America.”
Scholarship money will be raised, interfaith services will be held, basketball and soccer will be played and mixers will hope to bring diverse people to raise a glass together.
As more events continue to be added to DreamWeek, it might have to become DreamMonth, and its grand vision came from one man, Shokare “Sho” Nakpodia, an outsider — a Nigerian immigrant whose father was killed in political violence. He saw what we might not see because we’re so focused on the disagreements that surface.
In San Antonio, he sees tolerance.
The city resolves its conflicts “with little or no drama,” says Nakpodia, a marketing genius who came to the United States by way of his native Nigeria and England, where he studied. “It’s a place of the future.”
The evidence is in San Antonio’s annual MLK march. It’s no accident that it’s the nation’s largest, and he thinks it offers a phenomenal opportunity for San Antonio to market itself as a destination not only for the march but the growing events around MLK Day.
Nakpodia, whose advertising agency is called The Mighty Group, believes it’s possible to build on San Antonio’s brand of diversity, tolerance and equality. Imagine, he says, a time in the future when a major corporation sponsors the march, and it’s televised nationally.
“We’ve not seen the march as an asset,” he says. “We should use it to brand the entire city, not just with the River Walk, Fiesta and Luminaria.”
DreamVoice, the nonprofit established to oversee DreamWeek, will produce a documentary and photo-heavy book about San Antonio’s MLK-related events. When completed, DreamVoice plans to distribute them around the country.
Nakpodia isn’t naïve. He knows San Antonio has its shortcomings, but he’s filled with optimism about it.
And he thinks each MLK event provides an opportunity to inspire and motivate us into action, to create a more tolerant and enlightened society and to advance Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.