“The poor man is not he who is without a cent, but he who is without a dream.” –Kemp
Jacqueline “Jackie” Madden’s 2014 wish list includes two high priorities: signing a title sponsor and having more rehearsal time for the city of Irving’s award-winning, free annual performance honoring Rev. Martin L. King Jr.
Since 1999, Madden has been writing proposals and scripts, locating talent and other resources as director of Irving’s MLK tribute, held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day or a date close to the federal holiday. Madden is special events supervisor for Irving’s Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the MLK series, a unique, thought-provoking, and creative experience in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“We have a rehearsal on the day of the event. In total we get to have eight hours of rehearsal. And that's because of funding. It's kind of stressful because we don't know how something is going to look,” said Madden during a telephone interview.
“The money comes from the city of Irving and this year we got $10,000” of which $3,500 paid for a facility (rental) fee to the Irving Arts Center, where the performance is held, she said. “Ideally I would like to get a title sponsor for this event. I would like a title sponsor to put its name on it because I think that is a good show.” Each year the Greater Irving Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce provides a dessert reception after the show.
No Charge, ‘Quality of Life’
“I have people tell me they can't believe it's free. The city provides a service and it is available to the general public. I think that's to be commended,” Madden said.
Irving Parks and Recreation Director Ray Cerda wants it known that “this is not a revenue-generating program” because the purpose is to celebrate King’s life. Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation Joe Moses backs him up: “When you look at the Parks and Recreation Department, we want to enhance the quality of life. What's more fitting than to honor the philosophy of Dr. King for our residents?”
Moses said the MLK program started in the mid-80s at what is now the Georgia Farrow Recreation Center. At that time it was community-based. In the mid-90s, the performance moved to the Irving Arts Center and became a citywide event, he said.
Madden gets ideas for the show from King’s life.
“When I start reading about him I find something new to talk about. The script has already been preset. It's just a matter of researching his life and finding what new thing we are going to share. Isn't it amazing that we are still talking about this man and coming up with something new?” Madden said.
Back to King’s Ministry
She said she asks for “divine guidance” each year in preparation for the MLK performance and believes Irving’s commitment has generated “some good friends over the years such as Dallas Black Dance Theatre and (nationally acclaimed gospel singer) Brenda Ellis.” The audience echoed Madden’s belief by showing its appreciation for Ellis’s dynamic performances.
Madden traveled to Memphis last April and for the first time toured the National Civil Rights Museum, which includes the Lorraine Motel, where King stayed during his efforts to help striking Memphis sanitation workers. King was assassinated on the Lorraine’s balcony April 4, 1968.
“I got inspired from going to Memphis on a personal trip and visiting the Lorraine Motel. I got inspired that somebody had to talk about the preacher in him. At the core of everything he has done, he was a preacher. I proposed the idea in May after I figured out (how) to work it out. I wanted to go to Atlanta, but it didn't work out.”
Last October, Madden met with Nycole Ray, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II’s director and choreographer. Ray said Madden “wanted to go back-to-the-church aspect of Dr. King. She wanted gospel and high energy. I said I had the perfect idea.”
Madden’s research, travel and inspiration were delivered in the Jan. 19 tribute “The Ministry of Dr. King: From the Pulpit to the Nation.” Throughout the event, video clips of King played explaining his ministerial and civil rights journeys. And, the opening act danced the show right into Madden’s mandated “back-to-the-church” setting.
DBDT II’s rip-roaring, foot stompin’ performance to “Long as I Got King Jesus” by gospel recording artist Vickie Winans stirred things up.
“I thought it was fabulous (laughs). I thought the talent in the entire show was wonderful,” said Ray, a 25-year veteran dancer who previously danced in Irving’s other MLK programs with DBDT’s main company.
“It is always a pleasure for us to come out to the collaboration. It's wonderful to have been a part of it for all these years. Jackie Madden is such a wonderful woman. We love her,” Ray said.
It’s been a busy month for DBDT II. On Jan. 12 at the Dallas Museum of Art, the company premiered a Ray-choreographed new piece based on the work of contemporary artist Jim Hodges. Dancers in Ray’s opening sequence used colored flashlights to reflect her vision of Hodges’ The Subtle, The Sum…Give More Than You Take. And the piece concluded in a flourish with members of the audience responding to Ray’s request to speak aloud a word of their choice. Simultaneously this month, DBDT hosted the 26th annual conference of the International Association of Blacks in Dance, Jan. 16 - 19 in Dallas.
Martin and Mahalia
During Irving’s MLK show, audience members jumped to their feet when award-winning DFW performer Sheran Goodspeed Keyton, portraying gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, sang and sang. Frequently, Jackson sang at King’s civil rights events, and, also at his funeral.
The Mahalia Jackson set included speeches by actor Donovan Wheatfall, who portrayed King. Their performances were from The Upper Room by diannetucker.
“When the actor who portrayed Dr. King spoke, he brought awe through the audience,” said Moses, who frequently sits in the audience and watches people's responses as part of his assistant director responsibilities on behalf of the Irving Parks and Recreation Department.
National Park Service Receives Civil Rights Award
Madden got the idea to give the National Park Service the city of Irving’s 2014 Civil Rights Legacy Award after “reading that he (King) couldn't go to public parks (due to Jim Crow laws). Then I thought, ‘isn't that something?’ I went to the dedication (of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial) and realized how ironic it is that the National Park Service is running the site. We don't see a lot of stuff that's in front of us.”
Russ Whitlock, superintendent of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, accepted the award in an exuberant speech. Read his remarks.
In 2012, attendees received an oversized poster that read “Love Not Hate.” Madden said it is similar to the “I Am A Man” poster that (the sanitation workers used in Memphis).
This year’s commemorative gift was a church fan bearing the same image as the cover of the program distributed to attendees.
“(When) I think of church, (I think of) back in the day when they had fans and they were just passing the fans out. I can't imagine any black person who didn't have a fan before we got air conditioning. The stained glass window represents the church. And we also found a photo with the reflecting pool and we are reflecting between the church and the nation,” Madden said.
Irving’s MLK series was honored in 2006 with an Arts and Humanities Award, Class II, by the Texas Recreation and Park Society.
The next year the Southwest Regional Council of the National Recreation and Park Association honored Irving with another Arts and Humanities Award, Class II.
Madden said she entered the 2013 performance "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" and expects to find out within the next month whether it won an award. Ray Cerda uses an essential barometer of success to measure the series’ impact: attendees’ praise and support.
“We survey our customers. The results we get from our survey shows people want to see this year in and year out. I give a lot of credit to Jackie and her team for raising the bar, year in and year out,” Cerda said.
Madden may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About the Author:
Regina L. Burns, M.A., Project+, is an award-winning multimedia editor and journalist, specializing in Black history and African American stories at Harvest Reapers Communications. Her work has been published in Texas Highways magazine, WFAA-TV, The Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as well as The Commercial Appeal, the Tri-State Defender and The Flyer, among others.