Annual Celebration Stresses for Youth to Follow Dreams

The dream is alive with the sound of music, which reverberated in the early afternoon of Jan. 26 throughout the gymnasium of Frazer K-8 School at 741 Park Ave. on the Near West Side.

About 200 city residents, who gathered for the 28th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, were treated to an eclectic mix of music ranging from gospel, performed a capella by the Black Celestial Choral Ensemble, to bomba and plena, Puerto Rican rhythms featured by students trained by La Casita. The dancing was equally disparate, comprising Gangnam Style, stepping and breaking, among others.

The Black Celestial Choral Ensemble performs for attendees in the auditorium of the Frazer K-8 School for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. | Durrie Bouscaren, Staff photo

The overarching theme of this year’s event, billed as a celebration of arts, culture and education in the Syracuse community, was “Yesterday’s Dream, Tomorrow’s Promise.”

Both the keynote speaker, El-Java Williams Abdul-Qadir, and the mistress of ceremonies, Marcia Hagan, elaborated on the theme.

Abdul-Qadir, Program Coordinator and Business Navigator at the South Side Innovation Center, said he was born and brought up in the South Bronx, the seventh of eight siblings. “It wasn’t the best neighborhood, but my parents made sure to put food on the table for all of us,” he said.

He described himself as an activist and a sportsman. He was awarded a black belt in karate but, while many of his peers were content with their belts, he strived to become a world champion in martial arts, which he finally did, having failed in his first try.

“I wasn’t done with a black belt. I viewed karate more like a way of life, on how I conduct myself,” he said. “The first time I lost because I didn’t understand the rules of the game, not because I wasn’t good.”

He put the same desire to excel in sports toward his education, to hit the books. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and now is working to complete his Ph.D,

He conceptualizes a dream as collection of ideas on something further away whereas a promise is something more secure. “What is needed is hope, sacrifice and bridging the gap between a dream and a promise,” he said. “What is required is things to do to make the connection, steps to take toward a goal.”

Students participate in a Puerto Rican dance workshop during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at the Frazer School held Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. | Durrie Bouscaren, Staff photo

He understands sacrifice as giving up what you are in order to get what you want to be. This entails preparation and education, which he defined as giving and receiving systematic instructions.

He had advice for both children and elders.

He said that children are the future and they should keep themselves associated with people with positive traits, avoiding those with negative traits. “The children need guidance from role models,” he said. “Children should also ask questions.”

As for the elders, they should let the children make their own mistakes, let them get out there and take a shot. “This is social learning as we learn by the consequences of our actions,” he said.

He added that the elders sometimes feel defeated and think that they aren’t able to make a difference and they can’t change people’s minds. “But children can help the elders overcome their common obstacles,” he said.

Hagan, an administrative specialist at Say Yes to Education, lamented that now children don’t dream anymore. “Only their thumbs are moving [when they play with their smart phones],” she said.

She added that she was raised in the projects, where she met a girl who dreamed of being a ballet dancer. “The neighbors told the girl, “You can’t be a ballerina because there has never been a black ballerina,'” she said. “But the girl grew to become a ballerina. If you dream and work hard, it can be done.”


– Article by Miguel Balbuena, Community Correspondent for The Stand