Reflections on Dr. King: With Love, From New Orleans By Ben Jaffe
I was blessed to grow up in one of the most diverse environments in one of the most diverse cities on earth: New Orleans. My parents Allan and Sandra Jaffe were instrumental in establishing the first openly integrated music venue in the South, Preservation Hall. Preservation Hall's core mission was to present the disappearing African-American Jazz tradition of New Orleans in a respectful and dignified environment. Today, we find ourselves still fighting the good fight for equality, justice and equal rights for all. It's hard for me to imagine that the last Civil Rights amendments didn't pass until 1968! It hurts my soul that important segments of the voting rights acts so many, including my parents, fought for were overturned as recently as 2013.
I didn't realize how special and unique of a place New Orleans and Preservation Hall were, and continue to be, until I started traveling and experiencing other communities. I truly thought everywhere had parades on Sunday, great food, and music at funerals! Why would I think any different? Most of my friends and teachers growing up were African-American. That was my life, that was my experience, that was my knowledge. I couldn't imagine being any other way.
I grew up knowing people who had grown up on plantations, the bassist Chester Zardis, lived through World Wars I and II, trombonist Big Jim Robinson, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement and lived to see our first African-American President, our current clarinetist Charlie Gabriel. My best friend in grammar school, Sundiata, was African-American. His mother, Oretha Castle Haley, was one of our city's great activists, organizers and leaders. I remember the night at their house when James Baldwin visited and we interrupted their conversation because we were hungry and wanted to know when dinner was. I grew up with Odetta and Freedom Riders, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and the most understanding, wise and beautiful musicians.
Hate is not something in my body. I don't understand hate. I grew up around people who fought for equality and celebrated life and our differences. I do understand every generation must make peace with itself and discover its own truth. We repeat the same mistakes because we don't pay close enough attention to the past. Hate is something we are taught. It is environmental. It is something imposed upon us to keep us at odds with one another. Hate is a distraction, a powerful tool of the devil. I only have room in my life for love and compassion.
I am inspired by Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi, people who fought for understanding and the power of love...and most of all, Martin Luther King. Despite, and in spite of, the hatred and violence he experienced, like many of the people I grew up around, he found love in his heart for everyone. Love not just for his family and community, but love and compassion for his enemy. The only hope we have is love, compassion, and understanding. How do I know this? Because I am the product of a loving, compassionate and understanding environment.