On February 22, MCF member Youthprise hosted a philanthropy breakfast featuring Dr. Dorothy Cotton, who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as education director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The breakfast was part of a series of events celebrating Black History Month.
The morning began by showcasing the talents of young African-American women. Jamela Pettiford helped set the mood with a stirring rendition of “Change Gonna Come.” Her powerful voice filled the room, “A change gonna come! It’s been a long time coming but I know a change gonna come!” Spoken-word artist Brittany Delaney and violinist Shayla Farrar also performed a moving tribute to young African-American boys and girls, “Boy and Girl Fire.”
Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, vice president of community philanthropy at The Minneapolis Foundation, told us about the work of the African-American Leadership Forum/Education and Life-Long Learning Work Group, whose mission is to close the achievement gap between African-American and all children from birth through 12th grade in the Twin Cities. They believe a cross-sector approach to leadership is needed and it is time for all of us to come together to eliminate this gap. The economic vitality of Minnesota depends on it.
A Civil Rights Leader
Dr. Dorothy Cotton is a story-teller who infused song and humor while recounting memories from her childhood and the Civil Rights movement. Through poetry, she began her presentation by acknowledging music played an important role in her life. “I am Music! I am a luxury for all!” Dr. Cotton joked that her biography states she is a performer. “I’m not a performer. We sang because we had to sing!”
Dr. Cotton reflected on the importance of song during the Civil Rights movement. “We don’t know what we would have done if couldn’t sing together.” She said a week-long educational program to train and empower disenfranchised citizens had started with songs of sorrow, but that changed by mid-week. “I’m gonna do what the spirit says do! I’m gonna vote ‘cause the spirit says vote!”
Dr. Cotton invited the audience to envision the world in which they want to live. “Soar like a bird,” she summoned. “Imagine fifty years from now, looking around and seeing everything working beautifully together. And ask yourself, ‘What did I do to contribute to this place to be such a beautiful place?’” She then quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, “We will either learn to live together on this planet or we will perish as fools.”
Through song and story telling, Dr. Cotton reminded us how far we’ve come since the Civil Rights movement, but that there is more work to be done. As Brittany Delaney proclaimed, “Torches are meant to be passed. I know a whole lot of boys and girls who look like tomorrow’s fire.”
-Maria Salas, MCF member services manager