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In the picture below: Nelson Madiba Mandela together with Alfre Woodard

On January 21, 2002, Alfre Woodard wrote the commentary below in honour of Martin Luther King Jr.

Ms. Alfre Woodard is a key coordinator of Human Rights Watch, and is a prominent civil rights leader. She is a Co-Founder of Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA). Alfre is best known for her film work that includes Star Trek: First Contact, Primal Fear, How to Make an American Quilt, Crooklyn, Passion Fish, Grand Canyon, and Cross Creek.

Ms. Woodard won an Emmy Award for Best Actress for her work in the series Hill Street Blues, and a second Emmy for L.A. Law. She has appeared in several made-for-television films, including Ms. Evers' Boys and Mandela for HBO, The Member of the Wedding for USA, The Piano Lesson for Hallmark Hall of Fame, and Unnatural Causes for NBC (Emmy Award nomination).

Dan Kashagama, AUF General Secretary, met and spoke with Ms. Alfre Woodard in Canada on the set of the upcoming movie The Core.

Good morning, my friends.

I am away from home on a day that is very important to me. Indulge me to tell you my story. Today is a holiday in my country. One that deserves huge celebrations. It's Martin luther King, Jr. Day.

It was a struggle to establish this national day. There is still strong resistance to it in many quarters. Some people think of it as a "black" holiday, but it is probably the most American of the days we mark.

I would say that Martin Luther King, Jr. has had an effect on American life equal to and surpasing anyone in our history. He was at the forefront of a people's movement that, literally and figuratively, changed the way we live. In a way he introduced us to each other.

When people think of the civil rights movement they think of black and white images of black young people, and a few white, marching, sitting in, being blasted down Southern streets by fire hoses, being beaten with clubs and bitten by snarling dogs, in their campaign to bring full constitutional rights to people of color.

It was such a short time ago, forty years, that my parents and teachers, and all Americans of African descent were denied the right to vote in many states. But, it was just yesterday in our 2000 elections that a spectre of that period reared it's ugly head in thousands of documented incidents of blacks in Florida denied access to their vote. Old folks say"Freedom ain't free".

The dramatic strides for African Americans, that were hard won in the sixties, are probably the reason a lot of white Americans think of today as a black holiday. But, actually more Caucasian people have beniffited from the struggle that king waged against injusticve than any other group. Dr, king was an American leader who fought for the rights, dignity and general welfare of the working man.

He was branded a communist because he marched and demanded that working people, who were the backbone of the wealthiest nation on earth, should take a living a living wage to their families after a long week of labor. In his Poor People's Campaign he charged that the groaning tables of the rich were illegitimate in the presence of hungry and malnourished American children, the majority of whom were, and are, white with single moms.

He fought for the rights of women however and in whatever capacity their talents could take them, and they be paid equally to men for an equal day's work. He said that every American is equal in the sight of God and must be equal in the eyes of the law, no matter what their sexual orientation.

At the march on Washington black, white, poor, rich, young and old stood with him in the blessed dawn of a hopeful day when Dr. King insisted that America become her true self: One nation, under God, colorful with the many hues of her children's faces; Rhythmic with the many chants and prayers and ways of acknowledging the creator...with liberty and justice for all. He called us to the greatness that is inherent in us as a people.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was the first national leader to turn that same respect for the dignity of human life into a change into American foreign policy. He recognized that people on another continent or on the other side of the sunrise were as valuable as Americans and their children as cherished. He was a true patriot becasue he loved the people of his country.

In this time when many Americans feel threatened by unseen forces, a lot of people of people are wrapping themselves in the Stars and Stripes, but we can best protect ourselves by wrapping ourselves in the King spirit, by being more of who we aspire to be as a people and nation.

He met the violence that was visited upon his life with non-violence that he learned - through Reverand Jim Lawson - from Mahatma Ghandi. We owe endles praise to the tens of thousands of black, brown, red, white, and yellow people (including many Canadians) who with their flesh and blood demonstrated that power, real power, is love.

The raging baton of hatred is rendered impotent in the presence of active love. For all that have died fighting for freedom, let us live for justice and peace. We must remain awake and insistent to keep the dream alive. I share with you a great American holiday.

Happy Martin Luther King Day!!