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'Raisin' cast (Getty Images)

Some Dream of Comfort, Some for Freedom

Feb 25, 2008

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"What happens to a dream deferred?"

Do kids still memorize that poem?

I know I did. I know that I could recite it at the age of, I don't know, nine or so. We didn't have MLK day when I was growing up. Reciting poems was the kind of thing that your church or Girl Scouts might have you do. There might be an essay contest, or something. You might win a savings bond (remember those?) for the best essay on what it all meant.

As I think back on it, how could we have known what that poem meant? But in other ways, we knew all too well.

Speaking of Girl Scouts, I was at a Girl Scouts meeting (Brownie troop) the night the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed. I remember that all the mothers swooped in to collect us from whatever we were doing that day — macaroni art or some such. Our troop met at the community room in the apartment house across the boulevard from where we lived, and although the mothers came flying in with an urgency, that made it a bit frightening. I do remember that most stayed around for some time that night murmuring to each other in low, angry and tearful voices. We knew better than to ask what they were talking about (grown folks' business), but we all knew it was serious and we'd know soon enough.

The riots came soon. My father, a firefighter, did not come home for many days. I remember he told us to keep water jars filled in case the water pressure fell either from the water needed to fight the fires, or the electricity going in and out. We couldn't visit our friends. We stayed inside. I don't remember it happening to any schools, but I do remember a small supermarket near our house being burned. I don't remember who owned it or why it was burned, I do remember it was one that my mother hated to shop in because the food was of poor quality and overpriced. And she thought the people who worked there were rude.

That may be why "A Raisin in the Sun," the play that takes its name from the Langston Hughes poem I quoted above, still makes sense to me, even though it was written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1955, first staged in 1959 and made a movie in 1961. A new adaptation premieres tonight on ABC. It's a made-for-television version of the revised Broadway play that starred Sean Combs (entertainment mogul ... if you've been living on Mars and don't know ... aka Puff Daddy, Puffy, P. Diddy and Diddy), Audra McDonald, and Phylicia Rashad. Lorraine Hansberry was the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway; Phylicia Rashad continued the history when she became the first African American woman to win a Tony Award (Best Actress) for her role as Lena Younger, the matriarch of the family, whose insurance check is coming with hopes that it will change their lives.

Dreams. We all have them. Some of us dream of comfort, some for freedom, some for understanding.

We talked about dreams last week in our conversation about Kosovo independence. We featured three young Kosovar Albanians who talked about their happiness at Kosovo's declaration of Independence. We promised you additional perspectives. Today, we featured a roundtable of young Serbs studying and working in the U.S., who offered their perspective. Needless to say, it was a very different perspective. One of loss ... and resentment at being misunderstood. I should mention that Obrad Kesic, one of our guests, is a well-known policy analyst. You will probably hear from him again as this situation unfolds, but we also believe the student perspective is an important one and we hope to bring it to you whenever possible.

Finally, change is coming to Cuba ... or not ...

Our great Tom Gjelton was with us again to bring us up to date, along with Brian Latell, who is well-known to many of you for his work at the University of Miami and his book, After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader. The book could not be more timely.

Tomorrow, sex and the single dad. I hope you are intrigued ...

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