Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Record crowd gathers for MLK Day events

Feelings of excitement and anticipation lent a celebratory air to Duluth’s annual Martin Luther King Day festivities last month. Held a mere 24 hours before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the country’s first African-American president, the day’s events broke their attendance records.

The day began with an early morning breakfast at the First United Methodist Church, where Duluth’s African-American Men’s Group prepared food for and served over 350 attendees. The MLK community breakfast in Duluth began in 2002 by churches and committees interested in anti-racism. Each year it is funded by the General Mills Community Foundation.

David Comer, director of the Black Student Association at UMD, emceed the morning event which included prayers, storytelling and music.
Each place setting included a placemat decorated by elementary students from Nettleton and Grant schools. A free-will offering for Kids Cafe of the Damiano Center raised over $750.00
The day’s events were planned by the Martin Luther King Holiday
Committee which includes many groups, agencies and churches.

In addition to free food, the breakfast featured a simulcast speech from Gen. Colin Powell. Touching on the breakfast’s theme, “Because of His Dream, I can... Lead, Grow, Inspire,” Powell said that as a child growing up in the Bronx he never imagined that he would become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He also credited the integration of the military for helping the United States to become a more integrated society.

Following the breakfast, more than 700 people gathered at the Washington Center at Lake Avenue and Third Street to participate in a march through downtown to a rally at the DECC auditorium. Mothers and fathers with children, older people, and people of all ethnicities marched peacefully and sang songs including, “We shall Overcome,” “This Little Light of Mine” and “Gonna Lay down my Sword and Shield.”

Many shopkeepers stopped to look out their doors and smile.
“Today is a good day to focus on solutions,” urged Vince Senski, who said he was marching because there are still injustices in the world, “not spending billions a year on a war that wasn’t needed and using all the money and resources to improve the lives of people living in our country.”

A crowd estimated at over 1,500 people turned up at the DECC to continue the day’s celebration. Curtis Austin, director of the Center for Black Studies at University of Southern Mississippi gave the keynote address, “Will the Real Martin Luther King Please Stand Up?”
He stressed that King did not come into the civil rights movement without the urging of the women in his congregation and city. Most people do not know that Rosa Parks was a leader in the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and had stood up to injustices prior to even meeting King.

According to Austin, King was not the first to fight injustice, but he did provide a rallying point at a time ripe for television and newspaper coverage.
“King’s work is the work of so many others,” Austin explained. “He had the uncanny ability to stand up and give others courage to stand up.”

Austin ended his remarks with a final word of encouragement for the audience: “The real Martin Luther King did stand up. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

This year Doug Bowen-Bailey and Community Action Duluth won the Justice for Peace Awards. The awards recognize citizens and/or an organization of the community who have gone beyond their regular duties to: build awareness, speak on behalf of justice, celebrate diversity and impel, foster and promote actions toward building a better future for all.