Thirty years after Martin Luther King, Jr., Day was signed into law as a national holiday, it will be marked today by a significant coincidence — the second inauguration of the country’s first African-American president.
That fact won’t be lost on many celebrating the slain civil rights leader’s birthday.
“It really is significant in that when you think about the struggles during Dr. King’s time and tenure, and now to see that literally on the same day that we are honoring what he stood for and what he tried to do for all people, here is the President’s inauguration on that same day,” said the Rev. Kevin Bedford, president of the Toledo chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “It’s a huge reminder, a very visible reminder of how far we’ve come.”
MLK DAY EVENTS
Among area activities planned this week to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., are:
■ The city of Toledo and the University of Toledo will hold the 12th annual Unity Celebration at 9 a.m. today at Savage Arena. With the theme, “Make a Way,” the event will feature John Barfield, founder and chairman emeritus of The Bartech Group Inc., a Livonia, Mich., staffing company, as the keynote speaker. The Toledo Youth Choir and the Interfaith Mass Choir will perform. Guests are asked to bring a canned food item for the MLK Kitchen for the Poor.
■ LoSalem Baptist Church, 660 Vance St., will celebrate Mr. King’s legacy and memory at 10 a.m. today. Bishop Duane Tisdale of the Friendship Full Gospel Baptist Church will be the speaker.
■ Nearly 500 Bowling Green State University students, faculty, staff, and alumni are expected to donate an estimated 4,000 hours to help a number of Bowling Green and Toledo-area agencies and organizations as part of the MLK Day of Service. Owens Community College students are traveling to BGSU to participate as well.
■ At Bluffton University, Dafina Lazarus Stewart, an associate professor of higher education and student affairs at BGSU, will revisit Mr. King’s legacy in a presentation at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Founders Hall. At 7:30 p.m., Tim Nafziger, interim assistant director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, will discuss “Peacemaking and Technology: The Good, the Bad, and the Redemption in Progress” in Yoder Recital Hall.
■ At Ohio Northern University, where Mr. King spoke on Jan. 11, 1968, a cultural conversation hour is scheduled at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday in Room 301 of Heterick Memorial Library. On Wednesday, artifacts from Mr. King’s visit to ONU will be presented on the first floor of Heterick at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Ellis Cose, an award-winning journalist and author who wrote Beyond Brown v. Board: The Final Battle for Excellence in American Education, will speak in ONU’s McIntosh Ballroom at 7 p.m. Thursday. The week concludes with a concert by the Soul Rebels Brass Band at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Freed Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $7 for ONU students and children.
President Obama is to take the ceremonial oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol at 11:30 a.m. today.
“ ‘Hell will freeze over before there is a black in the White House’ — when we were younger, that’s what we used to say,” said the Rev. Cedric Brock, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Toledo. “Now, we see not just a black man, but the right man, who’s going to be fair with everyone, and I think that’s what Martin Luther King was reaching for.”
In cities and towns across the country, community leaders and regular citizens will come together to honor the legacy of Mr. King, who fought for equal rights for all through nonviolent activism.
People across the country also will participate in service projects as part of the national Martin Luther King Day of Service, which encourages Americans to have “a day on, not a day off,” as Pastor Bedford put it.
Many may take a midday break, though, to watch as Mr. Obama is sworn in for a second four-year term.
Dalton Anthony Jones, assistant professor of ethnic studies at Bowling Green State University, said Mr. Obama’s inauguration to a second term is even “a more significant statement of where the country has come” than his first in many ways. He said the former senator from Illinois was not so well-known four years ago.
“People were just discovering him [then], but we know him now,” Mr. Jones said. “His re-election makes a major statement about where the country has come.”
Pastor Bedford agreed.
“The re-election says that we really are serious about the fact that we want people that have character and qualifications regardless of their ethnicity,” he said. “It hammered that point home: If you’re qualified to do the job, we will hire you to do the job.”
Willie Ward, principal of Martin Luther King, Jr., Academy for Boys, an all-boys magnet school in Toledo that draws from the central city, said his school is dedicated to living out the dream of Mr. King, expressing it through hard work and learning and changing the community.
“They know they have a rich legacy of not only struggle, but a lot of positivity from the community that expects them to do well,” Mr. Ward said of his 230 students. “What we’re doing is changing the conversation of what our young African-American males are capable of. We have the desire, but it’s shaping the culture and climate to make it conducive to them learning.”
Pastor Brock said America has made great strides since Mr. King lived and died, but his dream is not fully realized.
“We do have a long way to go when racism is still very real,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate when you have to think about being nice to certain aspects, to people who we live with, who we grow with, who we try to support. Is the dream really alive when you have to really think about just being kind to people?
“It’s important that we send out kindness to our fellow man, and it’s going to come back to us,” Pastor Brock said. “It’s so important that we recognize on Martin Luther King’s birthday that an African-American is being placed for a second term in the White House who not just blacks, but whites, blacks, and browns put back in the White House.”
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.