“If you look at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. drive, what does it really mean?” a woman with a leopard beret hat on her head asked. “Is it the connotation that Martin Luther King Drive represents poverty? It shouldn’t. It should represent who he is and who he was.”
The MLK Streets Project was released back in 2012 and focuses on the different streets throughout the US named after the civil rights icon.
The first street to be named after King was in Chicago, in 1968. Today, the street sheds light on the Great Northern Migration and features a statue honoring the tens of thousands of African Americans who migrated from the South to the city. In North Carolina, cities such as Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheboro and many more have followed suit with streets after him.
The film was inspired by Chris Rock’s stand-up comedy act called “MLK Blvd,” where he performs a series of jokes connected to the streets named after the Christian minister and activist.
“I don’t care where you live in America, if you are on Martin Luther King Blvd.,” Rock says in the film. “It ain’t the safest place to be.”
Before the screening, viewers grabbed snacks and beverages from a small table outside of the auditorium. Many adults ranging from ages 40 to 70 sat in the rows of chairs that were placed in front of the screen.
Colorful, animated faces of people young and old appeared across the thin material that hung from the ceiling, followed by the sound of funky ’90s music that echoed throughout the room then faded to the background.
The film makes the sobering assessment that despite what the Christian minister and Civil Rights activist stood for, the streets named after him have high poverty and crime rates. Many of the interviewees in the film talk about how there aren’t many African-American-owned businesses today, even though that was one of the many issues that King was fighting for during his lifetime. On Thursday, the film screening took place in a center filled with a number of small black-owned businesses in Winston-Salem.
“This building, the Enterprise Center, is sitting on 1922 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive,” Degraffinreaidt stated after the film. “In this building — in this whole building we have about 45 small businesses. I think this is an economic base for those small businesses, to help them grow. We offer to them as many resources as we can, to help them grow their business.”
After the film, Degraffinreaidt led the audience in a discussion, her large hoop earrings moving slightly as she talked.
“Do you, from your perspective, think that students that hear about Martin Luther King and what went on, do you think that it is pertinent?” asked one woman to her peers.
Tavin Felton-Stackhouse, a college student from Winston-Salem State University, responded. “Now, the younger generation look to a different type of role models,” he said. “For instance, we have normal people, civil right leaders that we learned about besides Martin Luther King. So, one of my friends, his inspiration was Kobe Bryant and his drive and determination and the things that he did.”
“The students do understand, but we have new struggles,” he continued. “Not the exact same struggle, a new struggle of getting into college and can we stay in college or can you afford to stay in college. Once we graduate, can we find jobs in our majors?”
As people began to stand and file out of the auditorium, Degraffinreaidt, watched from afar and spoke about how she hopes Felton-Stackhouse’s generation will continue to interpret and advocate for King’s values.
“Dr. Martin Luther King wanted his work to speak for him — to define him,” she said. “So, it was my desire and prayer that it would give some incentive to make people get up and take action.”