In some ways, the 50-year-old words and images and symbols of Martin Luther King, Jr., have never faded from the public eye. He is, after all, not just a martyred leader of a Civil Rights Movement that is more than a half century old; he’s the embodiment of what we want to be as a society—equal and peaceful and righteous.
In these times, though, it can often feel as if Dr. King’s work couldn’t be further away, even here in Philly, where we embark today on the largest day of service in the country. Can we ever be equal, and at peace, and righteous? Maybe not.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, and hope, and have faith in the next
generation of Americans to make us the better America King dreamed of. That is a message embodied in a public art project launched this week by Comcast: Nine busts of Martin Luther King, Jr., lovingly painted by 50 students from area high schools, and erected in historic and notable spots around Philly.
The project debuted last week, in the grand hall at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts, where Comcast’s V.P. of Governmental and External Affairs Bret Perkins says he found himself not only moved by the work, but inspired by what it meant for King’s legacy.
“The connection you hope gets made between the immortal words of Dr. King to today was there,” says Perkins, who is also chairman of the Committee of Seventy, and sits on the boards of Temple University, PIDC, ReadWorks and others. “These high school kids were able to make their own interpretation of his speeches, and share their work.”
The busts, which will be up through Black History Month, were designed and painted by students from Art-Reach in partnership with The Overbook School for the Blind, Big Brothers Big Sisters, CAPA, and Girard College. They will be located outside the African American History Museum, Betsy Ross House, City Hall, Comcast Center Plaza, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia School District Main Building, and Temple University.
The busts will increase nine-fold the number of monuments to individual African Americans in the city; the only permanent statue, to Octavius Catto, was installed outside City Hall just last year. It’s a hopeful way to start 2018, a counter to last year’s controversy over monuments—of Confederacy, of Rizzo—that were about anger and hate and exclusion.
“The commitment to the ideas of Dr. King are ever more important,” Perkins says. “This is symbolically taking the torch and saying, ‘We got this.’”
Below, see a short video about the project: