The 9-year-old boy wiggling in his chair on the dais, wearing an electric-blue suit and a clip-on tie, looks like a spelling-bee contender. Until, that is, he steps to the microphone and addresses the 250 people who have come to St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue to hear him. “G-o-o-o-d afterno-o-o-n, ladies and gentlemen,” he says in a familiar cadence, beginning a mix of famous hymns and his own inspirational messages. Barely more than three feet tall, he nonetheless commands a huge stage presence. Soon he’s stamping his feet and waving his arms. “Stop judging man by the color of his skin,” he exhorts his audience, “and try to understand he is a man with black skin!”
The crowd is hypnotized by the child’s charisma and booming voice. “He’s amazing,” a few whisper. They are there for the Interfaith Center of New York’s commemoration of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on the thirtieth anniversary of his death, and Chris Durosinmi – the slight boy from Brownsville, Brooklyn, with big teeth and pointy ears – is the headline act.
“He’s a child, but he’s more than a child,” says Frances Lucas, who was Coretta Scott King’s roommate in college. “I knew Dr. King for a long time – since he was 19. I met Chris in ‘96. I can see he has these special gifts. Chris has put a whammy on everyone.”
Chris’s journey on the public-speaking circuit started when, at the age of 5, he delivered a fiery speech at his kindergarten graduation ceremony. Since then, he has been enlisted to preach at countless events at such venues as City Hall, Hofstra University, and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Every day, he gets requests to appear somewhere by people looking for the child who “does Dr. King.”
“I don’t know how, but my voice just sounds like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” he says, sitting on the edge of a pew moments before his performance. “It’s a miracle. Sometimes I get ovations and donations. I’m trying to give people a message and impress them.”
It seems to work. At St. Bartholomew’s, Chris works the crowd into a lather. “I pledge to be the best I can be,” he intones. “Today I pledge to believe in me.” He points at himself; the crowd roars. “Thank you, Dr. King, for your dream,” he continues. “I have a dream, too, that one day I will become president of the United States.”
For now, though, he has to get through fourth grade, a fact that significantly impinges on his speaking schedule. His parents are adamant that he continue his studies, though Chris seems much more interested in his onstage life. “It was good,” he says, after his sermon. “While I’m up there, I always think, ‘I need water.’”