MLK Weekend Featuring Tributes, Commitment to Racial Justice

Annual commemorations of the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which began across the country on Friday, typically include a mix of politics, faith and community service.

In this year’s celebration, the 38th since its federal recognition in 1986, the King descendant hopes to spur progress by helping more Americans personalize the ongoing struggle for racial equality and harmony. Bernice King, daughter of the late civil rights icon, said people need to get beyond the banal and deepen their commitment to the progress that is needed.

“We need to change our thinking,” said King, who is CEO of the King Center in Atlanta.

Under the motto, “It Starts With Me,” the center launched a series of Martin Luther King Day events Thursday with youth and adult summits to educate the public on ways to transform unjust systems in the United States.

The top-level meetings were streamed online and are available for replay the center’s social media accounts.

“It seems like we go through these cycles because we try to approach everything with the same mindset that all of this (racial inequality) was created,” King told The Associated Press.

“Changes can be very small,” she said, “but transformation means that now we’ve changed the character, shape, and nature of something. It’s something we haven’t seen before.”

MLK Racial Justice
A passer-by walks under the 20-foot-tall bronze sculpture “The Hugs,” a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, on Boston Common, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Boston. The sculpture, which consists of four clasped hands, was inspired by a photograph of the kings embracing when MLK learned he had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The statue is due to be unveiled during a ceremony on Friday, January 13, 2023.

Stephen Senne/AP

King’s holiday weekend events include a opening of the monument on Friday in Boston, a symposium on police brutality in Akron, Ohio, and community projects in many US cities. The holiday kicks off another year of pushing a racial justice agenda — from police reform and voting rights to addressing economic and educational disparities — that has been stalled by culture wars and partisan gridlock in Washington and across the country.

Residents of Selma, Alabama, which played a central role in King’s legacy, felt significant damage Friday from a deadly storm system that spawned tornadoes across the South. The city became a hotbed of the civil rights movement when, on March 7, 1965, state troops brutally attacked black people who were marching nonviolently for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

King did not attend the march known as “Bloody Sunday,” but he joined the subsequent procession that successfully crossed the bridge to the Capitol in Montgomery. The Pettus Bridge was not damaged by Thursday’s storm.

On Sunday morning, President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak at a memorial service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic Atlanta house of worship where King preached from 1960 until his assassination in 1968. The pastor of the church is the Rev. Senator Raphael Warnock, who recently won re-election a full term as Georgia’s first black U.S. senator.

And on Monday, as part of the federal observance of the King’s holiday, commemorations continue in Atlanta, as well as in the nation’s capital and beyond.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who got his start as a civil rights organizer as a teenager as the youth director of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s anti-poverty project, will hold his annual holiday events in Washington, D.C., and New York on Monday.

Sharpton announced Friday that Biden will deliver the keynote address at his gala breakfast in Washington. Martin Luther King III is expected to attend the event with his wife, Drum Major Institute President Andrea Waters King, who will be honored along with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

On Monday afternoon in New York, Sharpton, the founder and president of the National Action Network, plans to convene more than 30 prominent state and local elected officials for a public policy forum at the House of Justice, his organization’s Harlem headquarters.

In the decades since its inception, the King’s Day has become an opportunity for elected officials and candidates running for office to assert their civil rights and social justice. Bernice King said partisanship among politicians was a major obstacle to civil rights legislation.

Overcoming that “will require rising to a place where your loyalty is to humanity, not to a party,” she said.

“If we don’t find humane ways to create policies and implement practices from those policies, we will continue this vicious cycle of a downward spiral into destruction and chaos.”

Outside of establishment politics, many of the King weekend celebrations are opportunities for Americans to give back, reflect on the civil rights icon’s legacy, or take action locally against racial discrimination in their communities.

A massive monument to Martin Luther King was dedicated Friday in Boston, where the leader first met his wife, Coretta Scott King. In the early 1950s, he was a doctoral student in theology at Boston University while she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music.

The $10 million sculpture, titled The Embrace, of four clasped hands, was inspired by a photograph of the kings embracing when King Jr. learned he had won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. The sculpture was designed by Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group and was selected from 126 submissions.

“They both loved this city because of its proud heritage as a hotbed of the abolitionist movement and its unique intellectual and educational resources,” their son Martin Luther King III said at the dedication. “And indeed, Boston became the place where they formed a partnership that would change America and make a significant contribution to the struggle for black freedom. That’s what I see in this wonderful monument.”

Yolanda Renee King, who never met her grandparents, said she and everyone else needed to “carry on” the couple’s “unfinished business.”

“This is the spirit we have to keep when we celebrate (King’s Day),” the 14-year-old said as the crowd cheered. “Let’s make this a great day of community activity; brotherhood day, sisterhood day; a day of using your platform for good; a day of love and healing in the spirit of this wonderful monument.”

Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of EmbraceBoston, the organization behind the memorial, noted the importance of placing the sculpture in Boston Common, America’s oldest public park and a high-traffic site that is visited by millions of city residents and visitors each year.

“I think Boston has a reputation as a city of heroes and abolitionists like WEB Du Bois and Frederick Douglass, but also a reputation for being unfriendly, and in some cases described as racist. So between these two images is Boston. Placing the memorial there is part of our intention to change the perspective of our city.”

In Akron, Ohio, the family c Jayland WalkerA 25-year-old black man killed after police shot him 46 times while fleeing last July will host a symposium on public safety and mental health with local advocates on Saturday. Walker’s case has received widespread response from activists, including the King family.

And for the seventh year, the WK Kellogg Foundation will celebrate a National Day of Racial Healing following the royal holiday. On Tuesday, communities across the country plan to hold town halls to continue the dialogue about healing that the foundation says is necessary to achieve racial equality.

“No matter who you are, there is a path to healing that everyone should consider,” said LaJune Montgomery Tabron, CEO of the Kellogg Foundation. “We are all affected by racism.”

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