In a powerful, dramatic voice, Barry Scott of Nashville, Tenn., portrays Martin Luther King, Jr., as he delivers the famous "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of Michigan Tech's Memorial Union Building on Monday, Jan. 17, 2011 -- Martin Luther King Day. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photo © 2011 and courtesy Emil Groth. Reprinted with permission.) Click here for a YouTube video of Scott's rendition of the speech.
By Michele Bourdieu
HOUGHTON -- Barry Scott -- actor, writer, producer, director, motivational speaker, voice over artist -- told an audience at Michigan Tech University the story of how, as a young boy he watched a film of Martin Luther King, Jr., give his "I Have A Dream" speech and how it inspired his life's work.
"It captivated me. He was singing, not just speaking," Scott said of his child's impression of the famous speech King delivered on Aug. 28, 1963, during the March on Washington. "I wanted to be him. I wanted to talk like him."
Scott offered evidence of achieving his childhood dream in the presentations he gave on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 17, 2011, at Michigan Tech.
An authority on the life and works of Martin Luther King, Jr., Scott is the founder and producing artistic director of the American Negro Playwright Theatre at Tennessee State University. He is known for his Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. -- powerful dramatic presentations of King's words -- both spoken and written.
He began his Tribute to Dr. King at Michigan Tech on Monday, Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Day, by giving King's "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of the Memorial Union Building -- an annual tradition at Michigan Tech -- which was followed by a candlelight Peace March to the Rozsa Center.*
Michigan Tech students, faculty and community members listen to Barry Scott's dramatic rendering of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. Participants in the Peace March that followed carry candles and song sheets for the march. (Photo © 2011 and courtesy Emil Groth. Reprinted with permission.)
In the Rozsa atrium, students and visitors enjoyed hot chocolate, cookies and doughnuts before the second part of the Tribute -- Scott's stories about his own life experience growing up during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, interspersed with excerpts from King's speeches and writings.
Arriving at the Rozsa Center with the Peace March after the "I Have A Dream" speech, Michigan Tech University President Glenn Mroz commented on Scott's portrayal of King.
"Our visitor who was the speaker today just made the speech come alive as if you were there at the Lincoln Memorial so many years ago," Mroz said. "It really reminds you of what a great man King was and how much we have to be grateful for and again how much we have yet to do."
This copy of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech is on display in Michigan Tech's Van Pelt and Opie Library as part of a Traveling Trunk exhibit for Martin Luther King Week. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Scott first spoke about King as a great man who inspired him -- and about his own father who, in 1968, after King was shot, projected a film of King giving the "I Have A Dream" speech on the family's living room wall -- three times -- and then again on the wall of the bedroom Scott shared with his brothers. Scott related how he had jumped up and down on his bed shouting, "I have a dream" over and over, and then, expecting to be punished, was surprised at his parents' positive reactions.
"I went to bed that night feeling good about myself, and that was hard to do when you were growing up colored," Scott said.
After the Peace March, Barry Scott addresses an audience in the atrium of the Rozsa Center on Jan. 17. While Michigan Tech cancels classes on Martin Luther King Day, a diverse group of students and community members attended this second part of Scott's Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
He told more stories about "growing up colored" -- some humorous, like the time his father made him read the "I Have A Dream" speech in his family's Baptist church at the age of 12 -- and some terrifying, like being harassed to tell lies about his own parents by a racist policeman pointing a gun at his face when he was a teenager.
Scott asked the audience to imagine what it would be like to live in the South under segregation, before the Civil Rights laws, when they would not be able to eat in most restaurants, stay in most hotels, sit where they wanted in a movie theater; when they would have to sit in the back of a bus -- even an empty one -- drink from only certain drinking fountains, use only the dirty toilet.
"Imagine that for you these were just a few of the everyday facts of your everyday life," he said. "What would you feel?"
Scott mentioned the murder of young Emmett Till, the protest of Rosa Parks. He asked the audience to imagine what King would say today about his dream for America -- if he hadn't been assassinated.
Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., part of the Traveling Trunk exhibit in the Van Pelt and Opie Library at Michigan Tech. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
With intense emotion, Scott dramatized King's speech in Montgomery, Alabama, when he had been named leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association -- a group that wanted to boycott the Montgomery transit system after the 1955 incident where Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger.
Scott chose to quote powerful phrases from the speech, such as these: "'If we are wrong, justice is a lie. And we are determined ... to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.'"
Making history come alive through King's words, Scott then quoted from King's famous 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail," when he challenged a group of clergymen who were critical of civil rights demonstrations with phrases like "'We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom.'" **
In his Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., Barry Scott portrays the Civil Rights leader with selections from his speeches and writings. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Scott recalled the bombing of the church that killed four little girls in Birmingham. He was seven years old and refused to go to church because of the bombing -- and he described his mother's mixed reaction.
Scott quoted King's advice to young people -- to remember the sacrifices of those who fought for their freedoms and to do their best at whatever they chose to do: "'Keep moving!'"
He concluded his talk with questions like "What do you think? What do you feel? What kind of person will you become?"
Shezwae Fleming, director of Michigan Tech's Center for Diversity and Inclusion, asked Scott about the origin of the "I have a dream" phrase in the speech.
Scott said he believed it came from King's own education and reading of great thinkers as far back as Aristotle.
Fleming said she had learned that the phrase wasn't in the formal part of the speech but that the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, a good friend of King's, reminded him (in the middle of his speech) to include it.
"So much of Dr. King's legacy is attributed to that very phrase," Fleming noted. "What would have happened and where would we be without that component?"
Mel Norwood, outreach coordinator in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, asked about the concept "We Shall Overcome" -- a song from the Civil Rights Movement that participants sang during the Peace March from the Rozsa.
"If King were here today he would compliment us on how far we've come," Scott said. "He would remind us we've come a long way, but he still would say there's more to be done."
Barry Scott answers a question from Mel Norwood, right, standing, outreach coordinator in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Norwood invited Scott to give his presentation at Michigan Tech after finding a video of Scott on YouTube. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Norwood is the person who invited Barry Scott to participate in Michigan Tech's Martin Luther King Day event. Traditionally a Michigan Tech student gives the "I Have A Dream" speech, but Norwood was looking on YouTube for a child who might do it this year. He happened to come across a YouTube video of Barry Scott's Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.
"I was looking for maybe a child to do it who would impress, and I came across him (Scott) and I stopped looking," Norwood said. "He kind of invoked the presence of Dr. King, so I decided to invite him to join us for this event. He was gracious enough to accept and to come up to the U.P. all the way from Nashville, Tennessee."
Betty Chavis, former director of Michigan Tech's Outreach and Multi-Ethnic Programs, and now a local business owner, said she was very impressed by Scott's Tribute to Dr. King. The sound of Scott's voice, she added, was reminiscent of her memories of seeing and hearing Martin Luther King, Jr.
"I had heard Dr. King on two occasions (in Detroit and New York), and it brought back a lot of reflected memories," Chavis said. "As a matter of fact, I have an autographed picture of him. It's in the window of my store at the Copper Country Mall."
Several international students -- from Michigan Tech and Finlandia universities -- also attended the presentation. One Nigerian student, Jide Ayanniyi, who just arrived at Michigan Tech this week, said he liked the way Scott, through King's words, challenged the people in the audience to do their very best.
"It was awesome," Ayanniyi said.
* Click here for Emil Groth's YouTube video of Barry Scott's Jan. 17, 2011, presentation of the "I Have A Dream" speech at Michigan Tech.
** Click here to read King's historic Letter from Birmingham Jail.
See the schedule for more Michigan Tech events during Martin Luther King Week.