This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. weekend celebration comes at the heels of a year of national outcries against racial injustice, offering a stark reminder that the civil rights leader’s dream has yet to be fulfilled.
King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and said he envisioned a world in which all lived equally regardless of skin color.
A clip from the March on Washington, when King gave his famous “I Have Dream” speech calling for a better future, was shown Friday at an MLK Commemorative Walk hosted by College of Coastal Georgia’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The event was one of several kicking off the weekend honoring King’s legacy of service and leadership in the civil rights movement.
“The Dr. Martin Luther King Commemorative Walk was created to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King,” said Quinton Staples, director of diversity initiatives at the college.
Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority hosted its annual MLK Community Breakfast on Friday in a virtual format due to pandemic concerns. The event’s keynote speaker, Tara Wallace, an actor known for her role in the show “Love & Hip Hop,” encouraged viewers to reflect on this past year and take up the mantle to continue the movement King led.
“Today I challenge you to see hope and use these challenging times to prepare change you want,” Wallace said. “No time is too small to work within. I challenge you to love yourself, to work in love. I challenge you to fight for yourself, to wake up and live in your purpose.”
King confronted White supremacy and challenged a contradiction at the heart of the United States that denies equality for all, said Robert Brown, chair of the board of Community Action.
“Born in 1929, King’s existence as a Black man was always contingent and conditional,” Brown said. “In insisting that America live up to its promise, Black men and women had no choice but to sacrifice their bodies and lives. Fifty-three years after King’s death, the promised land where Black people take their rightful place on Earth remains elusive.
“The protests against police brutality and the demonstrations and support of all Black lives are a powerful reminder that the United States has yet to fulfill its promises to Black America.”
Tres Hamilton, CEO of Community Action, closed the breakfast with a reflection on the local challenges faced in 2020.
“We participated in food giveaways where the lines were miles long,” Hamilton said. “… We have families, individuals and people who are struggling because they either have no job or because their hours have been cut to a point where they cannot make ends meet. We cannot forget the inequities that this pandemic brought to light for us.”
The college event included several speakers and a walk around the campus. The event offered a time to reflect on the legacy of King, who fought tirelessly for racial justice, Staples said.
“He worked continuously to support all people, particularly supporting people of color, communities of color, low-income communities, for social justice, equity and pushing us as a community to figure out the many ways we could work better together to create a better place for future generations to come,” he said.
College President Michelle Johnston shared the story of one of King’s famous sermons. The sermon, given Feb. 4, 1968, reflected on the importance of what he called the drum major instinct.
“He started his sermon that day by sharing a Biblical passage where James and John, they approach Jesus and they ask to be seated in positions of prominence, one to his right and one to his left,” Johnston said. “And it was this expressed desire for recognition and attention that Dr. King referred to as the drum major instinct — that desire to be out front, to be seen and to be prominent.”
This instinct, if unchecked, can be destructive. But King’s sermon focused on Jesus’ response, which channeled that enthusiasm to be a leader by focusing on what matters.
“He said, ‘Yes, don’t give up that instinct. It’s a good instinct, if you use it right,’” Johnston said. “'… Keep feeling the need to be first. But if you want to be first, be first in love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity.’ Dr. King helped us understand what Jesus did in that moment. He gave us a new definition of greatness.”