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King for a Day: Three Activists Pick Movies That Inspire Them

Presidents’ Day. Election Day. Labor Day. It’s always nice to get a day off. But Martin Luther King Jr. Day is much more than a long weekend. It’s a time when an iconic civil rights leader is honored and remembered by the country he helped change. Today a new generation of activists carries on his legacy. We asked three to name the movies which inspire them to carry on the dream.


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Name: Roslyn M. Brock

Title and Organization: Vice Chair, NAACP

Most Memorable March: 1989 NAACP Silent March in Washington, DC to protest U.S. Supreme Court decisions that reversed many of the gains made against discrimination.

Favorite Demonstration Chant: “Fired up and ready to go!”

Hero (besides MLK): Barbara Jordan

Website: naacp.org

Top Three Inspirational Movies

1. Glory (1989): “This Civil War-set drama showed the strength and power of black men at a time when they were not recognized or treated as possessing those qualities.”

2. Amistad (1997): “It speaks to the innate desire of a people to be free from oppression as slaves stand up to their captors.”

3. The Great Debaters (2007): “As Denzel Washington says, ‘I do what I have to do so I can do what I want to do.’ That quote explains why we struggle for equality–so we can have further opportunities to do the things we want and create opportunities for those who come after us.”

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Name: Tanya Van Court-Cayo

Title and Organization: Board of Directors, New York Urban League (NYUL)

Most Memorable March: The Million Man March

Favorite Demonstration Chant: “Hell No! We won’t go!”

Hero: Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou

Website: nyul.org

Top Three Inspirational Movies

1. Remember the Titans (2000): “Based on the true story of a desegregated Virginia high school in the early ’70s, it shows one man’s ability to change the hearts and minds of a whole town. It’s also a great sports movie, and sports are often the great equalizer that forces social change before other institutions are ready.”

2. Schindler’s List (1993): “He wasn’t black and he wasn’t American, but this movie challenges each of us to ask ourselves how much we would be willing to sacrifice to help others, even if society deems them ‘unworthy.'”

3. Malcolm X (1992): “Okay, so maybe it’s just a Denzel thing with me. Seeing Denzel project the power, the leadership and the pride of Malcolm X was simply amazing. If there had been no Malcolm, there would have been no Martin.”

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Name: Wayne Taylor

Title and Organization: Founder and Director, The Fish Foundation (benefiting Hurricane Katrina victims)

Most Memorable March: “Even though I wasn’t born yet, I’d have to say the Poor People’s Campaign March, 1968, a march that is still unfinished.”

Favorite Demonstration Chant: Civil rights song “Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed on Freedom.”

Hero: Malcolm X, Paul Robeson

Website: fishfoundation.org

Top Three Inspirational Movies

1. When the Levees Broke (2006): “Spike Lee’s Hurricane Katrina doc shines a light on the ugly side of American ‘progress’ and is proof-positive that for all our triumphs as a nation, we have a long way to go to guarantee equal rights for all Americans, regardless of race or class.”

2. Malcolm X (1992): “This film really brings Malcolm into focus for generations of African-Americans who weren’t around in the ’60s. It’s also a great tale of struggle and redemption–a real American story about an American hero.”

3. The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973): “A token black CIA agent uses his job skills to turn young black teens into ‘Freedom Fighters’ who fight a war of liberation in the streets of Chicago. Not exactly a masterpiece of filmmaking, but anyone who has the audacity to envision our fabled ‘black revolution’ on film gets my vote!”

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