Readers may be unaware of the controversy surrounding a Dec. 23 Rivard Report story, San Antonio Planning Big MLK DreamWeek, but City Councilman Alan Warrick II (D2), DreamWeek founder Shokare Nakpodia, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission Chair Brandon Logan all have strong opinions on the subject.
The story’s original headline was “MLK Celebrated in San Antonio with DreamWeek and King Week.” The story described how the two event calendars, operated by DreamVoice LLC and the City’s MLK, Jr. Commission, respectively, represented parallel celebrations planned for the days leading up to the Eastside’s MLK March, one of the largest and longest-running in the nation, on Monday Jan. 18.
While the story conveyed an accurate portrayal of what each lead organizer envisioned for their events and organizations as a whole, the reporter (myself) made a huge mistake; I didn’t talk to Councilman Warrick before pushing the “publish” button. Warrick instead called an editor after publication and said the story was incorrect and that there was no King Week, per se. The story and headline were changed and a correction note was appended to the posting.
Warrick could have clued me in to the political undercurrents surrounding the past, present, and future of how the City of San Antonio officially celebrates MLK and, more specifically, how it brands that celebration. What I had thought was a simple difference in philosophy between two organizations that were going to cross-promote each other’s events was actually a serious disagreement between DreamWeek and King Week proponents, and what appears to be an unresolved conflict over what the anniversary of civil rights giant Martin Luther King should be in a city that has long embraced his legacy and message.
Logan, however, begs to disagree with Warrick and didn’t think the corrections were necessary or accurate.
“(King Week) has not been ‘folded into’ DreamWeek,” Logan said in a follow-up interview this week, referring to language used in the article after Warrick reached out for a correction. The story has since been corrected a second time to reflect the information gathered from follow-up interviews for this article.
This is not a competition between the DreamWeek calendar, established in 2013 and operated by DreamVoice LLC, and the City’s MLK Commission, Warrick said, but there does need to be a lot more coordination between the two entities next year – beyond simply linking to each other’s calendar on their websites. After all, each group received $100,000 from the City’s budget for this year’s celebrations.
These are the growing pains of an already large MLK March and celebration.
The Commission has received City funding since it was established in 1986. The March, and official commemoration and concert staged afterwards in Pittman-Sullivan Park, are organized by the Commission.
DreamWeek’s funding and the structure behind its operations is a bit more complicated. DreamVoice is the private, limited liability company that puts on DreamWeek through its nonprofit arm, DreamRep. DreamVoice has received public funding from the City through its Center City Development and Operations Department and the Department for Creative and Cultural Development. The amount over the past four years has ranged from $10,000-$25,000.
“Largely, however, the summit has been funded by The Mighty Group (Nakpodia’s private public relations firm that he co-owns with his wife, Tracy Nakpodia), a handful of generous sponsors, and personally by Shokare Nakpodia,” stated a DreamVoice spokesperson in an email. The Mighty Group has worked for several City departments including EastPoint and Metro Health as well as the University of the Incarnate Word.
DreamVoice has been contracted by the City to promote its events via a sleek online events calendar and the team’s vast social network. King Week events are included in the DreamWeek calendar, but not under the “King Week” name. The host, MLK Commission, is listed. The MLK Commission has a brief paragraph and link to the DreamWeek page on its homepage. DreamVoice was essentially hired by the City to market and promote both DreamWeek and MLK Commission events.
“Why would the city place bets (funding) on both sides if they weren’t working together?” Warrick said. “Next year we’ll find a way to really be on one page. … Quasi-competition is what has led to multiple marches (and commemorations) in other cities. We’re trying to avoid that drama.”
Atlanta, King’s home city, and several other large cities have at least two MLK Marches. For more than 30 years, Dallas has had two marches, a result of “deep political divisions in southern Dallas,” according to the Dallas Morning News. This year, the parades will combine into one, but not without controversy.
“Ideally, I’d want a kind of unified front – that’s how our march has been able to grow,” Warrick said. “We need to coordinate how DreamWeek and (MLK Commission events) can coexist without being perceived as competitors.”
This year DreamWeek and King Week will run in tandem, but Warrick said he might recommend the removal of the King Week branding from the MLK Commission’s calendar.
“It could easily be ‘presented by MLK Commission’ next year and not ‘King Week.’ We’re weighing the value of King Week,” Warrick said, who is honorary commission chair of the MLK Commission.
In other words, if the benefits of being part of the national King Week brand, started by the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, is less than the benefits of sponsors that could be gained for the city by having a “united front” behind DreamWeek, Warrick said, then they’ll explore placing all events and activities under the MLK Commission umbrella.
Commission Chair Logan, who is president of SRG Athletics and co-founder of its nonprofit arm, SRG Force Sports, was appointed in July by a newly-elected Warrick. Logan is standing firm behind the King Week branding – which is new this year – and the distinct difference between the Commission’s 24 events and the more than 150 events on the DreamWeek calendar.
DreamVoice is organizing three key events of its calendar. The opening breakfast on Friday, an awards luncheon honoring the children with disabilities rehabilitation center CRIT USA, and the closing “Freedom Party” on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
“DreamWeek is a great platform,” Logan said. “But it’s natural to call ourselves King Week to create a clear distinction (between events).”
The MLK Commission is hyper-focused. It puts on events that encourage “awareness, acceptance, and appreciation of the teachings and philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement.” From a movie screening of “Selma” with guest speaker Peggy Wallace Kennedy, to an arts gala with the San Antonio Symphony, commission events are tailored towards its mission. Proceeds from events, most of which are free, help fund scholarships.
“You would never see a fashion show from us … it doesn’t fit our mission,” Logan said. “We want to focus on the issues.” Educational advancement, economic opportunities, cultural diversity, and community service are the four conceptual pillars that the events cater to.
Logan and Warrick are especially proud of the work done with the various campuses in the Alamo Colleges network and the local four-year universities. Seven venues of higher learning have signed on to provide full-ride scholarships for a King Scholar. In the past, $40,000 in scholarship funds have been raised. This year – among UTSA, Our Lady of the Lake University, Texas A&M-San Antonio, Palo Alto College, St. Phillips College, North Lake College, and Hallmark College – that figure has climbed to more than $250,000 and they’re working on more.
“The real lasting legacy are those dream scholars,” Warrick said.
As the annual commemoration has grown from days to a week and now even longer, drawing in dozens of community groups and interests, some are asking: Has DreamWeek become too big and too far-reaching? Many events on the DreamWeek calendar are recurring community events that would happen with or without DreamWeek. The SAMA pARTy, Awesome SA, yoga classes, and the Coffee Festival are all on the list amid more theme-focused events like a town hall meeting about drug-free communities, a forum on violence against women, and an opening ceremony that is bringing MLK III to speak at the Briscoe Western Art Museum Friday morning.
DreamWeek, its founders say, is about more than MLK, and that’s why the events on the calendar include health, cuisine, arts, and environment. It has become an ever-growing calendar of community gatherings that celebrates people and groups from all corners of San Antonio.
“For the City, there ought to be one brand and different arms of that brand,” Nakpodia said. “One arm is the MLK Commission … they’re the ones that have been given that mandate to promote MLK’s legacy here.”
Ultimately, Warrick said, the City is looking into ways to get MLK events off of the City’s budget and onto those of national corporate sponsors to “showcase what we’re doing to the nation and world.
“The MLK Commission will definitely be part of it,” he added. If a private entity, like DreamVoice, could manage the day-to-day and organization of citywide events, then that would even further decrease the amount the City would have to fund.
“We need the MLK Commission, we need DreamVoice, we need all the organizations participating,” Nakpodia said. “We have to have (the) entire city buy in.”
Enough about how they’re different. Nakpodia, Warrick, and Logan agree that this somewhat awkward coexistence between DreamWeek and King Week is not a “competition.” The three prominent African-American leaders recognize that the opportunity for collaboration was cut short this year and more work needs to been done next year, especially since public dollars and interests are involved.
“Less than 10% of our city (an estimated 100,000) is participating in the MLK March … how do we get 250,000 or 500,000 people?” Warrick said.
DreamWeek and the MLK Commission both have goals to introduce the MLK Day (or week) celebration’s to new and larger audiences and its seems both organizations will be needed. It doesn’t have to be an “either/or” situation.
They all want to it to be big – like, Barack-Obama-comes-to-San-Antonio-for-MLK-Day big, as Nakpodia suggested. They all know the March and Dr. King have special places in the hearts of San Antonians.
It was only three months ago that Warrick stood on the steps of City Hall to apologize for even thinking about moving the MLK March route from the Eastside to start out at “five points” throughout the city. The community backlash from the mere suggestion underscores how important the MLK March is in the community.
In that sense, nearly 50 years after his martyrdom, King continues to arouse passions just as he did so unforgettably while still alive.
*Top image: San Antonians take part in the 2014 MLK March. Photo by Iris Dimmick.