The 5th Annual MLK Coffee Drinking Party: Civil Rights and Coffee--Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (What a Party it Was!)

On Sunday, January 19th, 2014, we hosted our 5th annual MLK Coffee-Drinking Party. (MLK, Jr. loved coffee and was a regular coffee-drinker.) Five years seems like a long time, certainly long enough to create a tradition in a community like Montclair, New Jersey. But when you think about long-standing traditions, you should think about coffee. Coffee has been part of the human experience since the 9th century when, according to the legend, an Ethiopian goat-herder “discovered” coffee beans after observing his goats eating them and becoming unusually active. By the 1400’s, coffee beans were being cultivated and roasted on the Arabian Peninsula, and by the 1600’s, regular coffee consumption was part of life in Europe and New York.

Coffee and Civil Rights—Two Old, Cherished Traditions

Now think about Civil Rights. Think beyond the United States for a moment. What are civil rights? Civil rights are secular human rights that guarantee legal, social and economic equality. The quest for these rights is as old as the human experience. There have always been people who found themselves in unfair, unjust situations, who sought to align their outer circumstances with their inborn inner dignity. Coffee drinking/civil rights are very old traditions. Just as, by comparison, drinking coffee in the United States and being able to celebrate the victories of the US Civil Rights Movement (The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorized federal action against segregation in public places; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968) are both relatively new.

For us, and the people at our party, and lots of other people, celebrating MLK Day and the American Civil Rights Movement continues to be an important “tradition”---a cultural touchstone, worth acknowledging---a holiday that particularly resonates in a place like Montclair (for a number of reasons, the photos themselves tell an important part of our story). It also reminds us that there is more work to do here in the United States to further advance socioeconomic and racial equality.

Coffee, Cocoa...and Wine

Now back to the party: Every year, more and more people come. The goal is to always make room for more. This year, about 55 people got together to drink coffee, hot chocolate, tea, wine or seltzer—and eat sweet and savory treats.  People came, they went, it snowed, we had fun and the kids played. Toddlers dressed up in tutus, while tweens danced around with Wii joysticks. Everyone enjoyed the jazz. Once again, there were zucchini cookies (thanks Shannon!) and amazing brownies, really good savory treats, and gluten-free and vegan options as well. Though many of the same people come each year, this year there were new people, which made it more festive and even more interesting.  It was the usual diverse assortment of writers, editors, lawyers, educators, I.T. professionals, fitness enthusiasts, Wall Street executives, business people, volunteers and creatives. Lots of parents, some not parents. Some people born and raised in Montclair, some from other parts of the country, many from NYC (mainly Brooklyn or the UWS), and many Montclairians who came by way of Italy, Ghana, Russia, Israel, Romania, or Hong Kong. And though we went quite late, everyone was out by 11:30. The next morning (which normally would be reserved for spin or yoga classes, or family walks) was a no-holds-barred day for volunteering as part of a newly evolving MLK Day tradition in Montclair called Day ON.

 The party was not political---after all the politics that led to the party had mainly happened before most of us at the party were born. We were there to drink coffee, to honor a tradition and to express our gratitude, which we did by holding up our cups in honor of Dr. King and taking photographs. Thanks to the efforts of eighth grader, Noah Gale, who made the “Thank you, Dr. King!” poster this year, we had lots of visual reminders of Mr. King surrounding us. Most parties here in Montclair tend to be easygoing, light, fun affairs---the hard work around the issue of diversity, inclusion and ‘civil rights’ is done in the classrooms, where our children are taught; in the township council; in editorial offices in NYC and here in town; in local real estate offices; and at dinner tables and during quiet moments when no one is looking. The hard work is a day-in, day-out grappling with a reality that doesn’t easily bend to symbolism. The hard work is done not only here, but everywhere, wherever there is work to be done—by those willing to do it.

Civil Rights and Coffee Cups For All

Now for a bit of honesty: To our children, the Civil Rights tradition feels very ‘traditional,’ mainly because they are so young. Yet, they somehow seem to get it, most likely because their teachers are young and dynamic and able to contemporize the Civil Rights story for them. It’s important that they understand the reality that the civil rights “issue” is ongoing, always relevant and never ending----and there are many, many “issues.”

In a world, in a nation, that is increasingly global and truly multinational, the African American Civil Rights movement is quintessentially American and rooted in the 20st century (with earlier roots that go back to the 17th century and the beginning of American slavery). Lack of civil rights is a daily reality for millions of people worldwide. Their struggle is just as profound as our struggle. In fact, human slavery thrives now as much as it ever did. According to the Global Slavery Index, 21 million people worldwide are living as slaves, meaning they are either in a forced labor situation, in debt bondage or living as sexual slaves. Many of those affected are children. Of the 60,000 slaves in the United States, the largest percentage are 12- to 14-year-olds who are being used as sex slaves, because of their youth, vulnerability and sheer attractiveness to the adults who buy them.  For more information about global slavery, please visit:

Thanks to everyone who came this year…and to those of you who wanted to, but couldn’t. Coffee connects people and cultures, and in the process, reinforces a sense of community, personal dignity and well-being. Looking forward to next year---and looking forward to a time when our children will be able to raise their cups not only to Martin Luther King, Jr., but also to other leaders who successfully help bring civil rights to others here and everywhere else who struggle daily for their human dignity.


3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592 said…
I notice a dearth of comments, so let's get the ball rolling.

Yes, yes, I missed it again. Next year, who knows? I expect to be travelling much of this year and next so maybe several thousand miles of g-trotting will end up with a trip to Nicki-ville, probably on the way to Sundance.

There hasn't been much time to comment recently, what with splitting atoms (and hairs) and so forth. Out here at the Global, Inter-Stellar headquarters the work never stops (unless it rains or something).

Lately, I've been caught up in K-Dramas. K-Dramas = Korean TV shows, more about that later. Do yourself a favor and get out of the wasteland of U.S. Television and go to and watch the latest show called; My Love from Another Star, preferably as a subscriber in HD with no commercials, try the free trial, trust me on this. Or just read some of the several thousand reviews.

Although, starting with this show might leave everything else a let-down. An alternative plan would be to start with the Heirs, (starring the iconic; Lee Min Ho = he da man, 21st Century Cary Grant, Asian style), and then go to The Master's Sun starring; Gong Hyo-Jin = Gong Lovely. Thusly working your way to MLFAS.

Just go to, read the reviews, and ask yourself if it is time to leave the Zombies, Serial Killers, Cops, Doctors and Lawyers behind.

Cheers from the outskirts of the known world.
3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592 said…

OK, so let's say you want to join the 21st century and go with web-based streaming TV. What now?

You could go low-end and get the Google Dongle or do what we at the World Headquarters did and get you a Roku Box.

Roku allows you to stream web-based channels to your TV in high def. Such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime which are all subscription based, but also allows you to watch Youtube and other things that are free. The user interfaces are very good and this is extremely important and a very much underestimated virtue. Roku costs $100 and is easy to set up. Just go to Amazon and read the reviews. It's awesome.

Speaking of reviews, there are now nearly 5000 comments/reviews of the K-drama I mentioned in the previous missive on Tonight is the final episode (21 1-hour episodes) and the fever at d-fever has reached a peak of unrestrained anxious anticipation and joy.
3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592 said…

So, why Korean TV? Because we have our choices now.

The US and the UK have for years exported culture (such as it is) electronically. This is what Niall Ferguson referred to in his book; "Empire" as "Soft Power," as opposed to the other kind, I guess. Maybe dropping a brick out of a window or Nuking somebody, is Hard Power, who can say (I suppose Niall knows, but he's not telling us).

Anyway, many countries export culture these days. Some don't, either they have no culture (Turkey) or they aren't sharing (Germany), but many do. Now, you can do more than watch movies you can listen to radio stations, read newspapers and go to various websites.

Korea is prolific in their popular culture and it hasn't devolved into what the US has, the US media especially TV is all about shocking the audience. It's getting boring don't you think? Tarantino movies are boring now. The point is that good storytelling doesn't have to shock you to get your attention or to compel you to feel something. You don't need to see the sex to understand the love part. In that way, Korean culture is wonderful and refreshing. In these dramas when the guy holds the girls hand, wow, it's like a lifetime commitment has been unleashed. I find that kind of thing enjoyable.

Today, you can choose your music, your reading, your movies and TV and your Art, and your Coffee (see I am on-topic, hah!) from anywhere in the world (hey Germans how about sharing), nearly.

3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592 said…

Who dreamed that beauty passes like a dream? For these red lips, with all their mournful pride, Mournful that no new wonder may betide, Troy passed away in one high funeral gleam, And Usna's children died.

We and the labouring world are passing by: Amid men's souls, that waver and give place Like the pale waters in their wintry race, Under the passing stars, foam of the sky, Lives on this lonely face.

Bow down, archangels, in your dim abode: Before you were, or any hearts to beat, Weary and kind one lingered by His seat; He made the world to be a grassy road Before her wandering feet.

3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592 said…

Meanwhile in China;

According to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper;

A bizarre craze in China for a Korean soap opera about a 400-year-old alien has caught the attention of the international press.

The Washington Post in a piece published on Friday milks the political and cultural implications of the fad surrounding "My Love from the Star" for all they are worth.

"There is no shortage of problems facing China these days: a terrorist attack that recently left 33 people dead and 143 injured, corruption in government, a worrisome slowdown in economic growth," it begins. "So when the country's two highest governing bodies met in Beijing this week, what was the burning issue on the delegates' lips? A South Korean soap opera that has taken the country by storm."

The daily tells of a pregnant woman in Jiangsu Province who nearly had a miscarriage after she spent all night binging on episodes, chicken and beer.

"To be fair, it's hard to overstate just how popular this show is these days. After the show's female lead mentioned 'beer and fried chicken' in one episode, it became one of the most invoked phrases online. Restaurants cashed in and started selling beer-and-fried-chicken meals," the paper said.

Thanks to being available online, "My Love from the Star" has had 2.5 billion views in China. It found an improbable champion in Wang Qishan, the sixth highest-ranking member of the Chinese government and a member of the Politburo, who praised the soap opera in a recent meeting of the National People's Congress.

"Its premise may seem bizarre to Western soap watchers: It's about an alien who accidentally arrives on Earth 400 years ago, meets an arrogant female pop star and falls in love," wrote the Washington Post. "Well aware of the craze the drama has created in China, one committee of China's political advisory body (called the CPPCC) spent a whole morning bemoaning why China can't make a show as good and as big of a hit."
3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592 said…

2.5 views in China alone???

That would be roughly 10% of the entire population watching all 21 episodes. WOW.
3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592 said…

Yes, it's PI Day. Let us rejoice.

Chicken and beer for everyone!

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