Hope and Dreams: Celebrating MLK and Obama

Today is a big day for us here in Harlem to commemorate two great African-American leaders, both past and present. How fitting is it that we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama on the same day.

When I think about MLK, Jr., I wonder what he would think of Harlem today. He would no doubt be impressed by the mix of races, cultures and businesses that have sprouted up on Lenox Avenue. He would love to see that Sylvia's is still standing strong, and he would love to see that his dreams did come true. It was 53 years ago that four black college students sat at a lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. and refused to get up, sparking the start to the Civil Rights movement, and today we had a full house at Ginny's for lunch--a veritable cornucopia of colors and ages. How far we've come in 53 years to a time when we all broke bread watching our first black President get inaugurated to his second term in office.

Maya Angelou, when asked what MLK, Jr. would say to President Obama today, told Piers Morgan, "I think Dr. King would have said 'Continue. Be loving and be strong. Be fierce, and be kind. And don't give in and don't give up."

And that's the strength that still resounds in Harlem and beyond today.

I want to acknowledge the students at Dalton here in NYC. I had the pleasure to speak to them about how Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired me as a child growing up in Sweden, and I was so impressed by how engaged they were. It was a great reminder of how important it is to continue the legacy of the those before us and I was touched by the questions you asked me about my own childhood and career as a chef. A student asked me what I would serve MLK, Jr. if he were to come into the Red Rooster today and that answer was easy for me: I'd cook him his favorite meal of fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread (also a favorite of POTUS), but with a lighter touch to reflect our attention to better nutrition. But most importantly I would make sure he would feel like he's back at home, rested and well-fed.