A half-century ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., rallied a nation with his dream of equality for all.
On the day reserved to honor the civil rights leader, Toledoans reflected on that great hope and dreams both realized and yet unmet.
The American pastor and activist known for his passion for justice and racial equality was born this month in 1929, assassinated in 1968, and remembered on Monday at the 13th annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Unity Celebration at the University of Toledo’s Savage Arena.
“Dr. King’s dream was rooted in the American dream … ,” said Ray Wood, president of the Toledo branch of the NAACP, who delivered the keynote speech. “Dr. King believed in one race, and that was the human race, and he knew that this world was made for all men.”
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Mr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, when he expressed with urgency the need “to make real the promises of democracy,” Mr. Wood said.
Work remains to be done.
Mr. Wood, also the president of United Auto Workers Local 14, cited the growing gap between the rich and poor, attacks on collective bargaining, and threats to voting rights as ongoing problems.
“Dr. King had a dream. Now it’s time for us to dream,” he said.
That encouragement — to not just reflect but also to act — was echoed throughout the 90-minute program, which included rousing performances by the Toledo Interfaith Mass Choir and the Toledo Youth Choir and remarks from UT President Lloyd Jacobs, U.S. Congressman Marcy Kaptur, and Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins.
University officials estimated the crowd and participants at 1,700, which included a luncheon afterward.
Mr. Collins said going to the event is not enough; people must embrace Mr. King’s message and work toward reconciliation.
“We have not accepted our responsibility to be a peoples of brotherhood and sisterhood, and until that day comes, we will never realize Dr. King’s dream,” Mr. Collins said. “Let us collectively and individually dedicate ourselves with the message Dr. King left us.”
It was Mr. King’s bravery to stand and speak before big groups that gave Terell Willis, 15, the courage to recite a rap he wrote for the occasion.
“He’s not afraid to get up and speak in front of thousands of people, and that kind of motivated me,” Terell said after he performed.
The Bowsher High School student joined a handful of members of the locally based group Making a Direct Difference (MADD) Poets Society who addressed the crowd. The young writer started his rap by reflecting on how the world isn’t the way Mr. King wanted it to be.
Jackie Terry of Toledo attended the celebration for the third time. She came to hear her great-nephew sing with the youth choir and said she walked away with a feeling of unity, of everyone “getting along together.”
That stems from Mr. King’s own life, she said, because he brought people together despite his own struggles.
Sam Robinson of Toledo, a teen advocate with the YWCA of Northwest Ohio, received the Unity Award during the program for his work with young people and involvement with the city’s Youth Commission and a host of other local groups. A committee made up of representatives from the city, university, and the community picked the award recipient from nominations submitted by the public.
Mr. Robinson hoped young people walk away from the program understanding Mr. King paved the way for all people.
“It’s OK to believe in your dream and follow your dream,” Mr. Robinson said after the program. “An event like this is definitely great for the city, not just the youth, but everyone in the community.”