As a writer, having some of your best work erroneously attributed to someone much more famous could conceivably fall into worst-nightmare territory. But if you’re a motivational speaker, and the unknowing plagiarist is none other than Nelson Mandela, well, worse things could happen.
“As honored as I would be had President Mandela quoted my words, indeed he did not,” said Marianne Williamson years ago upon learning that a few lines from one of her books had been mistakenly attributed to the famed South African leader’s 1994 inauguration speech. (“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”) Yet she viewed the confusion with the kind of sanguine measuredness one might expect from someone who makes a living being wise: “I have no idea where that story came from, but I am gratified that the paragraph has come to mean so much to so many people.”
Williamson, who will speak at the annual “Make the Dream Real” event at Taylor United Methodist Church (1188 12th St., Oakland) on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day — Monday, January 17 — is something of a self-help celebrity: She’s appeared on Oprah numerous times, commands upwards of $10,000 for speaking engagements, and has seen several of her books — which tend to focus on metaphysics, gender, spirituality, and service, among other topics — land on the New York Times bestseller list.
For this reason, snagging Williamson, who will be speaking for free, was a bit of a coup for the celebration’s organizers. But it’s fitting for a speaker whose rhetorical style and themes are said to echo those of King’s. “She’s a very powerful, very clear thinker, and she’s an activist who’s very interested in social causes and social equality and very aligned with what MLK was about and what he talked about,” said Lily Smith, one of the tribute’s organizers. “We’re very excited to have her.”
Now in its thirteenth year, “Make the Dream Real” — which is organized by members of the Attitudinal Healing Connection, an Oakland-based anti-violence and community-engagement nonprofit — has come to be the largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Oakland, drawing about a thousand attendees. Williamson is expected to be a big draw, but Smith was careful to note that the rest of the program offers more than its share of highlights: mistress of ceremonies Aimee Allison of KPFA’s Morning Show; musical performances by groups including the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Youth Choir and China’s Spirit Youth Ensemble; indigenous sacred prayer; a slate of speakers including local theologian and author Matthew Fox; and an awards ceremony honoring local community members who have made a difference in the areas of leadership, philanthropy, and service.
The awards ceremony, Smith said, is central to the event’s mission, as is Williamson’s message of active community and political participation. And, as Smith noted, it fits nicely with newly inaugurated Mayor Jean Quan’s recent call to service in the city. “This is truly a well-organized, very powerful group of people that are really making substantial changes in the community,” she said. “It’s not just lip service.” 10 a.m., free. 510-652-5530 or AHC-Oakland.org