***Before you read my writing, I insist you read or re-read Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream.” It is one of the most important things you will do all year.***
It was MLK Day 2016, and I had never witnessed such resonant energy, such spiritual flow, channelled through a keytar.
In a way that is perhaps only possible in Chattanooga, the performance deftly reflected its surrounding city. This was a place of boldness, vitality, perseverance, and optimism. It remains poignant today that the same qualities underlying this virtuosic keytar gospel solo provided a foundation for confronting some of the most intractable challenges of humanity.
During our studio’s 2015 creation of We Will Not Be Satisfied Until, we encountered a community with an overt yearning to use art to discuss racial, economic, and social inequality and freedom. The challenge was repeatedly articulated: how do we reconcile how far we’ve come with how far we have yet to go?
How? It was an impressive articulation of an enormously complex set of issues. Painting became an act of devotion toward this central question. The teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr became our guiding framework.
(I’m going to include another link to his speech here in case you blew it off above. Please read.)
Chattanooga harbored deep connections to Dr. King, both historically and spiritually. In fact, the mountain overlooking the mural was mentioned by name in “I Have a Dream” - a humbling daily presence, to say the least. Dr. King was a direct influence here, and we met several Chattanoogans who cited his teachings as impetus for their personal life trajectories.
The mural was located on a road named for Dr. King, and it embodied a narrative arc familiar to many American cities with stretches of road named for Dr. King.(1) What was a thriving economic center during segregation became a systematically oppressed economy post-desegregation. It is a bitter irony, precisely the connection between racial and economic inequality that Dr. King cautioned against.
How do we reconcile how far we’ve come with how far we have yet to go?
What does freedom look like? What does freedom sound like?
Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred… Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force... We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating for whites only. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.(2)
-Lizzie Kripke, Co-Principal Artist