Martin Luther King, Jr.'s hope reverberates at university

Businessman urges crowd to open doors for others

Preston Wilson, of Bowling Green, soloing on
Preston Wilson, of Bowling Green, soloing on "Better Days" with the Toledo Youth Choir.

The life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reverberated through the University of Toledo’s Savage Arena on Monday as an inspired crowd celebrated the civil rights leader.

His call to action echoed from the podium and a message of love, spread through foot-stomping songs of hope, rattled the arena. The 2013 Martin Luther King, Jr., Unity Celebration reminded attendees to remember past contributions and seize future opportunities.

“... Dr. King made a way for African Americans,” said keynote speaker and businessman John Barfield. “Martin Luther King made the most of his time, his abilities, and the opportunities he was given. Each of us can do the same. We should be inspired by his life, but we should be inspired to action.”

Mr. Barfield should know. The grandson of Alabama sharecroppers, he too made his way and his mark. He achieved success as the founder and now chairman emeritus of the Bartech Group, a Livonia, Mich. based staffing and work force management company he grew from the ground up. The Ann Arbor businessman credited his success to Mr. King and his followers’ “economic vision” for African Americans and the country.

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Mr. Barfield urged entrepreneurship, saying urban neighborhoods need business owners and employers. He told the audience, many of whom were local students, to “open as many doors as you can for others.”

“The ultimate measure of success is the degree to which you help others,” Mr. Barfield said.

The celebration resonated with the listening youth, including Tevin Bell, 17, of Toledo, a member of the Student African American Brotherhood which was well represented at Monday’s event. Mr. King and the messages relayed during the celebration show students “how to be a leader,” Tevin said.

“I want to be up there one day,” he said, referring to the arena floor where city and university officials and leaders addressed the crowd.

The two-hour event featured music by the Toledo Community Youth Choir, Toledo Interfaith Mass Choir, and local gospel group First Creation.

The youth choir, formed to perform at last year’s unity celebration, brought many to their feet. Its members range in age from 12 to 25, and the choir’s assistant director received raucous applause after singing the national anthem.

Arielle Campbell said she learned Monday morning that the scheduled singer had an emergency, and so she belted out the “The Star-Spangled Banner” as if she’d had months to prepare. After the program, she called the youth choir’s performance “amazing” and highlighted the group’s family-like dedication.

“These kids have come a long way,” she said.

Students in the audience also provided inspiration. The pink-clad, pennant-waving members of Young Women of Excellence stood in the stands and performed recitations, including the refrain “I am not invisible, and you will see me.”

The 12th annual event also recognized Johnny Hutton, a retired principal of Scott High School, with the Toledo Unity Award.

Speakers reflected with gratitude on the work of previous generations and rallied attendees to continue that mission. Toledo Mayor Michael Bell encouraged people to unite, love each other, and find five new friends in the next year who “do not look like you.”

“If you all do that next year this place will be sold out,” he said to the sizable crowd which included some empty seats.

Vania Johnson, 17, joined classmates from Toledo Early College High School at the event and heard the call to service and action inspired by Mr. King. People see needs but don’t usually act.

“This is the time to do it,” she said.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: or 419-724-6065.