MLK Celebration at the Cleveland Clinic

On Friday, January 18th, our first event for the day took us to the InterContinental Hotel and Conference Center on Carnegie Avenue where we attended the Cleveland Clinic’s 27th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration.

The format for the morning was a community breakfast followed by a program. We, of course, encountered quite a few local public servants that we knew, like Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, City Council President Kevin J. Kelley, Councilman Blaine Griffith, and former Councilman Zack Reed.

Attendance was not just confined to those living in/representing Cleveland, though. Indeed, we ran into our good friend Mr. Kevin Malecek, Director of Economic Development for the City of Mentor, who was there with Councilman Sean Blake of Mentor and Mayor Patrick Ward of Lyndhurst. We also recognized Mayor Ed Krause of Solon and Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer Gail of Euclid.

During breakfast, we shared a table with several people who work in administration at the Cleveland Clinic. All the while, “Voices of Praise Gospel Choir” from Baldwin Wallace University entertained us all with their beautiful singing.

Soon, the program started. Reverend Dr. Amy Greene, Director of the Center for Spiritual Care at the Cleveland Clinic, began with an invocation. She referenced the iconic song We Shall Overcome and noted that, while we have certainly progressed a lot in our quest for social justice since the 1950’s and 1960’s when Dr. King lead the civil rights movement, “there still is a lot to overcome.”

Therefore, Dr. Greene called for all people of all faiths to come together and treat each other as they would like to be treated themselves and work for social justice. Dr. Greene’s message was reinforced by Reverend Dr. David A. Cobb, Jr., Pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church, who spoke of how his life was very much influenced for the better by the words and actions of Dr. King. Subsequently, Dr. Cobb urged us to “all do our part faithfully” and continue to move forward as we work together for the greater good of our communities.  It seemed like the theme for this year’s celebration was a quote by Dr. King that read, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

Accordingly, our next speaker was Dr. Tom Mihaljevic, CEO and President of the Cleveland Clinic, who said that there was no insignificant job at the Cleveland Clinic and everyone who is involved with it, in the spirit of Dr. King, strives to uplift humanity. Dr. Mihaljevic also introduced the Keynote Speaker: former U.S. Ambassador Gina Abercombie-Winstanley, who has enjoyed a 30-year career in international diplomacy which included being the longest-serving U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Malta.

Of course, we have met , a Cleveland native, several times over the last few years and believe her to be a terrific person and respect and admire her accomplishments. The fact that she once worked at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, helping people who wished to immigrate to the United States, was of special interest to us.  

She shared her recollections of how she had served as the first female consul-general to Saudi Arabia from 2002-2005. We were particularly touched as she related how young Saudi women were inspired by seeing not only a woman but a woman of color hold such an important post. Not everyone was happy about this though; many people felt threatened because they did not want to see women advance. Nonetheless, despite serious threats, Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley continued in her service because she believed, as did Dr. King, that we have the right to challenge the status quo if we believe it to be unjust. The Ambassador concluded by saying that we must continue to move forward by working to insure that all human beings are treated with respect and dignity. In this process, she affirmed, no work is insignificant.