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Martin Luther King Day speakers urge rekindling the light


“Note that I’m not black, but I’m celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday,” said Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession in opening comments for both the Sunday afternoon commemoration and the Monday morning rally and march.

Girls seek peace.

He was responding to a comment in a newspaper article about why some people do not and do celebrate the holiday.  One commented that he did not celebrate it because he was “not black.”

The mayor celebrates because he remembers the tumultuous years of the 1960s to which King brought his commitment to social justice and nonviolent protest that led to passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.??

On the 21st anniversary of the holiday, Dennis called people to reflect on the value of King’s contributions to society, reflecting on the legacy of calling Americans to uphold American ideals of life, liberty, equality and justice, not limiting the worth of people by color or class.

Speakers for rally

“He made it clear that government has a role to take care of people and people have a responsibility to change the world through non-violence, even civil disobedience,” the mayor added at the rally, pointing to King’s courage and conviction to speak the truth, knowing that he faced death threats.”

Other speakers at the service and rally expressed need to “Rekindle the Light and the Dream.”

Happy Watkins
Happy Watkins

“Today, we are not separated by law but by an achievement gap from grade school through high school and college,” said Bill Maxey of the Martin Luther King Family Outreach Center Board.

In his name, the center continues his work to close the academic, social, emotional and physical gaps, Bill said.  “Each of us has to work to be drum majors to overcome those gaps.”

V. Anne Smith of the NAACP quoted King’s daughters:  Yolanda speaking of her father as a king who expressed the burden of people with a “velvet voice that brought healing,” and Bernice likening her father to a shepherd guiding the  nation out of hatred and racism and into peace.”


March begins
Marchers in 2007

Jim Sheehan, director of the Center for Justice, spoke of the influence King had on his life to look for the power and strength from within to realize justice, peace and love, because “anyone can be great.”

Sheila Collins brought greetings on behalf of Governor Christine Gregoire, pointing out how King’s words pierced the hearts of listeners and the dream he articulated living on, captivating the minds and hearts of young people.

Marchers in 2007
Marchers head to Riverpark Square

The Rev. Art Jarrett, Baptist minister-at-large in Spokane, picked up on the excuse given for non-involvement.

“I’m black,” he said the obvious.  “At least I was the last time I looked.

“The church has been the birthing place for leaders, prophets and clergy, people who make a difference in the affairs of people, nations and the world,” he said.  “The church is the spiritual, cultural and political center of African-American or black experience of life.  The church has been an agent of change.  King was part of the church.  I went to school with him at Morehouse.

Marchers 3
Marching on a cold day.

“He articulated and demonstrated profoundly the message of agape—that love is more powerful than hate, non-violent resistance more redemptive than violence and racism,” Art said.  “He left a legacy of audacious hope in a dream that needs to be understood more than memorized.  Let us rekindle the light in our character, so young people will be fully equipped to compete in the global market and arena.”

Father Steve Dublinski of Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral pointed out that the Catholic community continues to stand in solidarity today as it did when Catholics marched with King for justice and against racism more than 40 years ago.

Children march
Children join the march.

“King taught us of the power that was possible when people of faith looked beyond doctrinal differences to recognize that Americans can work together for the common good,” he said.  “King as a compelling example of unity.  Often religion is misrepresented as divisive.  King said we are responsible to look beyond our differences and find common ground to build for the common good, responsible to and for each other.  He brought us the power of possibility.”

Rabbi Jack Isaacson of Temple Beth Shalom spoke of the worship exchange experiences the Jewish community has had with New Hope Baptist Church and of his own growing up in the only Jewish family in a Houston neighborhood that became all black after a few families moved in.

Rally at Riverpark Square
Crowd gathers for music and fair.

“Busses had signs halfway down that designated seats at the back for black.  I went downtown with black friends, but could not go to the same theater or drink at the same water fountain,” he said.  “I remember hearing of a rabbi joining a march with King and returning to be fired.”

He remembered sit-ins and then seeing black faces in theaters.  While no one talked about including Jews, he said there was Jewish blood spilled along with others in the civil rights movement.

“Legislation that was passed had profound effect on American Jews, because we, along with blacks, were kept out of country clubs and off beaches.  Even in the 1990s in Spokane, blacks and Jews could not join certain clubs.

“To rekindle the light, we need to find unity of blacks, Jews and all people concerned about civil rights and human rights,” Jack said.  “We need to link arms and rediscover unity.”

Children sing
Children sing at 2007 commemoration.

Wallace Williams introduced youth who did a choral presentation of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, saying King would be elated with young people carrying on the message.

The Rev. Lawrence Hudson of Covenant Church offered a prayer for God to “help us find each other across racial divisions.”

Ivan Bush, one of the event organizers and equity officer for Educational Service District #101, and Spokane’s mayor then lit a candle as a symbol for those present to dedicate themselves to value difference and see difference as a strength, “to make a difference until making a difference no longer makes a difference, to affirm that each person matters.  Young people from Spokane schools and from different backgrounds then lit candles and dedicated their lives to make a difference in the future, picking up on the role models of Spokane men and women they named who have made a difference in bringing King’s dream into reality here.

The Rev. Happy Watkins of New Hope Baptist Church closed the service with the reminder in King’s words that the struggle will be “not long” because “the moral law of the universe is bent toward justice,” because “truth pressed to earth will rise again,” and because “What goes up must come down.”

“We need to ask not how we are doing,” Happy said, “but how the children are doing.  The community needs to return to the things we used to do together to help your young people.”

In rallying people the next day for the march, Ivan called people to ask:   “Have I done anything to make a difference to affirm everyone’s sense of somebodyness?  Does everyone matter to me?”

Bill reminded people marching to “be drum majors every day” by connecting their passion and action.

Bill Swaggert, also of the Martin Luther King Family Outreach Center Board, challenged people to not only rekindle the light, but to light a bonfire of action.

Gary Livingston, chancellor of Spokane Community Colleges, called children and students to raise their hands, then challenged them to remember and carry on the message.

“The further we move from King’s life, the easier it is to forget his message and the ideals he lived and died for,” Gary said.  “We should not forget the thousands who walked, sat and protested with King, or the thousands and millions now taking the next step to commit their lives ever day to his ideals.”

Ivan added a reminder that King said the most urgent question is:  “What are you doing for others?”  He introduced the next speaker, community leader Roberta Greene, who reminded marchers that despite newspaper space given to why some did not celebrate the day, she celebrated more than 2,000 who had showed up to march, plus others who could not come but would have liked to be there and others doing community service.

“It’s about a man who gave his life so that you and I, our children, grandchildren and future generations could have freedom to live, just to be, so never would one group be allowed to take the rights of other groups.”

For her, the ability now to experience the rights the U.S. Constitution grants “takes away the pain of not being able to sit at lunch counters, of entering the back door to the dentist’s office and of the lynchings and harassment.”

Roberta also recalled the role of King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, who died in 2006.  She reared their children after his death to hold onto the dream.

“I tell you this, it is not a black holiday.  No matter the color of your skin, this holiday is about you.  It’s about the American dream, King’s dream for all Americans.

“We honor the courage of the man who kept on despite being threatened, beaten, arrested and jailed 29 times, and knowing he would pay the ultimate price.  He kept showing the truth,” Roberta said.  “Let us remember all 364 other days what he stood for and pledge to be leaders for social justice and peace, for fighting poverty, hunger and intolerance.”

Happy then inspired the marchers with the “I Have a Dream” speech, given for this day and time.