MLK Day Commemorations: We are Called; 38th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Concert; 18th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Celebration; Lorain Calls for Attention to Opioid
In 2018, "Martin Luther King, Jr. Day" took place on Monday, January 15th, but we started to attend commemorations on Sunday, January 14th.
First, we went to the Westshore Unitarian Universalist Church on Hilliard Blvd. in Rocky River to attend a Sunday sermon titled "We are Called" delivered by Reverend Patrica Hart, Worship Leader, with some help by Ms. Martha Boesel, Worship Associate, and other members of the congregation.
At this start of the sermon, we were warned that it would be troubling to many as the repressive conditions that sparked the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's were recalled. Of course, we had already read a lot about this (we were less than 10 years old at the time) but it was good to be reminded and we learned some particulars that we did not know until now. In fact, Reverend Hart took our prior knowledge into consideration as she frequently asked the congregation questions about who someone was and what was the date that a famous occurrence happened.
Much of the sermon dealt not so much with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but with Ms. Rosa Parks and the circumstances that lead up to the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott which lasted 381 days. We learned that quite a few other people of color had been arrested for refusing to move to the back of the bus before Ms. Parks brought the matter to national attention on December 1st, 1955. Part of the reason Ms. Parks was able to finally bring the matter to the forefront was that she was very well-educated and schooled in areas of effective civil disobedience having attended courses at "Highlander Folk School" which was a social justice leadership training school in Tennessee.
We went on to review how Dr. King was initially reluctant to assume a leadership role in the boycott having only recently arrived in Montgomery. Nevertheless, his commitment grew and he fulfilled his destiny as a true leader culminating with his delivery of the "I Have a Dream" speech on August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to 250,000 supporters.
The message that Reverend Hart wanted to impart is that we cannot see what happened during the civil rights movement as a closed chapter of history because many of the things that Reverend King and Ms. Parks were working for (i.e. equality for all regardless of race, ethnicity, or religious faith) are currently being challenged. Accordingly, there is a need for constructive social justice activism today just as there was nearly sixty years ago. To be sure, it will not be easy for many people to step out of their comfort zone and become involved but the ultimate rewards, both in terms of what will actually be achieved and for one's own spiritual growth, will be abundant.
Reverend Hart closed her sermon with a benediction based on the works of fellow Unitarian Minister Rebekah Savage. It included the words, "let us move from this place, encouraged and refreshed for the journey ahead."
That night we went to Severance Hall to attend the 38th annual "Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Concert" put on by the Cleveland Orchestra and the City of Cleveland which we have attended quite a few times in the past.
The orchestra was conducted by Mr. Franz Weiser-Most. Unlike the other MLK concerts that we have attended which consisted only of music, a different format was chosen consisting of a narrator (in this case, Mr. James Pickens, Jr.) reading passages concerning Dr. King's life, his beliefs, and his challenges. Then the orchestra played a piece, often with the accompaniment of the "Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Chorus "and/or Mr. Ryan Speedo Green singing bass-baritone, as slides or film clips were shown. The musical selections played ranged from classical (i.e. "Overture to Egmont" by Beethoven) to African-American Spirituals (i.e. "Down by the Riverside") to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic". The evening came to a uplifting conclusion when all of the audience members participated in a chorus of "Lift Every Voice and Sing".
We arrived early and complimented Mr. Austin Lard and Miss Mollibeth Cox and Mr. Austin Land, both employed by the Cleveland Orchestra, for staffing the "Orchestras Feeding America" donation table. This effort is part of a national food drive conducted by orchestras throughout the country at different times during the year. In our case the Cleveland Orchestra conducts its drive during January.
It was open seating and we were fortunate to sit next to some people who have been attending this annual concert for since it started nearly forty years ago. We thus learned that for many years it took place at the "Cory United Methodist Church" on East 105th Street and that, initially, tickets were pretty hard to come by. Now these very much in demand tickets are distributed fairly through a lottery.
Aside from the lovely music, our favorite part of the program was when the "Dr. Martin King Jr. 2018 Community Service Awards" were presented to three recipients who "are positively impacting Cleveland in the spirit of the teachings and example of Dr. King. Two of these recipients were Cleveland City Councilperson Kevin Conwell and "KeyBank". In the latter case, the award was accepted by our friend, Ms. Beth Mooney, the Chairperson and CEO of "KeyCorp".
The third recipient was Mr. Titus Hicks, a young man who had a deeply troubled educational experience until the ninth grade when one of his teachers recognized his potential and got him involved with the "Baldwin Wallace University's BW Scholars Program". Having been given the proper guidance, Mr. Hicks graduated from "John Adams High School " in the top 10% of his class and earned a scholarship to Baldwin Wallace from which he graduated in May, 2016 with a BA in business administration. Mr. Hicks is the first one of his family to earn both a high school diploma and a college degree.
Mr. Hicks is now a Youth Outreach Coordinator for the "BW Scholars Program" and is now pursuing an MBA. Most importantly, he spends a lot of time mentoring/coaching young people who are experiencing the same educational/family situations as he once did.
We have no doubt that if Dr. King were still alive, he would be very proud to have an award named after himself be presented to such a worthy person as Mr. Hicks.
Monday, January 15th, was the official "Martin Luther King, Jr. Day" and we got up early to attend the "18th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Breakfast Celebration" at the Double Tree by the Hilton Hotel on Lakeside Avenue. The theme of the morning gathering was "The Time is Always Right to Do What is Right."
Unfortunately, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, the Honorary Chairperson of the event could not be with us but he sent Mr. Kenneth Williamson, one of his aides, to represent him. Mr. Williamson read a letter from U.S. Senator Brown that contained a paragraph(s) that read:
"Today, it seems like we've traded thoughtfulness, compassion, and understanding for a White House that too often fans the flames of hatred and fear. And too many continue to chip away at the right that Dr. King and so many others marched for, the right that John Lewis was beaten for, and the right that many gave their lives for-the right to vote. But here's why I'm not discouraged-the activism and service and compassion of Ohioans all across our state. I saw that spirit last week, on the steps of the Supreme Court, as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder, defending voting rights."
Dr. Corttrell Kinney, Chairperson of the, MLK Scholarship Committee (which presented the breakfast along with U.S. Senator Brown) took charge of the program and did a fine job. We were glad that he made a point of mentioning that, in the spirit of Dr. King, it must be acknowledged that immigrants (now the center of great political controversy) are very important to the continued success of this country. He then introduced three young men from different African countries who are here as a result of the efforts of Coach Ourtney Bryant. We are glad to report they were warmly received and got a round of applause.
Along the way there were musical selections by Mr. Brandon Edwards and the presentation of 11 young people who formed the 2018 Class of MLK Scholars. The Community Donation recipient was "Dancing Classrooms Northeast Ohio", a 501(c)(3) whose mission is "to build social awareness, confidence, and self-esteem in children through the practice of social dance."
We enjoyed meeting Bishop F. Josephus Johnson, II who is the Senior Pastor of the "House of the Lord" in Akron. Bishop Johnson gave a very strong keynote speech in which he maintained that Dr. King was not a partisan political leader (as some believe him to be) but a minister whose mission was to unite all peoples through God's power of love. Of course he advocated for legislation in order to realize his goal but he recognized that his vision could not be brought about by lawmakers; it would come through a spiritual realization by individuals.
Along the way, we got to talk to Bishop Johnson about the Nepalese refugees who have settled in Akron. We urged him to check out the "Greater Akron Area Chamber of Commerce" which other clergypersons attend and he was open to the idea. After hearing his keynote, we told him that we thought he would be very well received as a speaker at the monthly "Morning Buzz" networking sessions that we have written about.
The recipient of the "In the Footsteps of Dr. King Award" was our dear friend Ms. Meryl Johnson who taught in the Cleveland Public Schools for 40 years before retiring and is now a member of the State Board of Education. Her award was presented to her by one of her former students, Mr. Gary Jackson who is a teacher and the football coach at "John Adams High School". Mr. Jackson recalled that Ms. Johnson influenced his life for the better when, back in the 7th grade, she refused to give him a higher grade so that he could participate in sports. Of course he was disappointed at the time but the incident taught him an important lesson about self-accountability.
Near the close of the program, Dr. JaNice Marshall, Associate Vice President of Access and Community Engagement at Cuyahoga Community College, said that she believed that Dr. King was an extraordinary man who gave of himself so that we can live a more sensitively diverse life. As for the program that morning, she believed that in addition to our bodies, our spirits and souls had been nurtured and fed.
We certainly felt inspired by the events that we had attended thus far on Sunday and Monday so we decided to travel to Lorain to attend a demonstration to call attention to the Opioid epidemic because, just like the theme of the breakfast, we believed that the "time was right to do right."
The action took place near a drugstore not far from downtown and was attended by such notable people as Imam Paul Hassan and Lorain City Councilperson Pamela M. Carter as well as our good friends Amir Khalid A. Samad and Ms. Ruth Standiford.
In the course of the short rally, it was said that it was appropriate that this action be held in front of a pharmacy/drug store that distributes drugs to the community. To be sure, the opioid epidemic is affecting all of us no matter where we live and it will take all of us working together to put a stop to this crisis. Accordingly, talk is "cheap" and "faith without work is dead" which is something that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have certainly agreed with.
Ms. Mildred Lee, recognized as an elder, spoke with wisdom about how her grandson's death so sadly affected her family. It didn't matter that the boy did not die through opioid usage-what mattered was that his loved ones are now without him just has many families are without someone who died needlessly.
The matter shifted to today's political climate and everyone agreed that recent remarks by the White House regarding immigration were absolutely shameful and very racist. We were very proud of Mr. Samad when he said that he would no longer tolerate such utterances and that he would call out the President and anyone else who would say hateful things about fellow human beings.
For this occasion, Mr. Samad carried a sign featuring Dr. King's likeness and a quote which appropriately read:
"Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it."
Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC