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Martin Luther King Jr. Day speakers inspire large crowd

MLK rally crowd
Crowd gathered for MLK Rally

Speakers at Spokane’s 2010 Community Commemorative Celebration and at the Rally before the annual March for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day challenged 3,000 participants crowding the rally and those at the celebration with their own stories and insights, as well as with the words of Dr. King.

Elder Jimmy Pierce, the new president of the Ministers’ Fellowship Union, charged those attending the celebration at First Presbyterian with “pressing the cause forward not just one day but every day.”

Mary Verner at MLK rally
Mary Verner

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner
expressed her gratitude to serve a community with the diversity represented in the Spokane Community Choir seated behind her at First Presbyterian Church for the celebration and the people crowded into and outside the INB Performing Arts Center for the rally. 

“I see the richness of the fabric of our community every day,” she said.  “Our city leaders believe in and appreciate unity.”

Growing up in Fitzgerald, Ga., she said her school was desegregated when she was in the sixth grade.  When Dr. King became famous, she remembers he was not seen as “the Rev.” King, but as “a rabble rouser.”

“He changed our society with his words and deeds.  I am grateful for the rabble he roused,” Mary said.  “It took civil disobedience and nonviolence for change to happen.”

She said the cause he espoused involved sacrifices that led the country to progress in equality to the point of electing an African American President.

“We can see the progress made against intolerance,” she said, quoting Dr. King:  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” She called for renewing resolve to be vigilant.
“It’s easy to be complacent and forget the fight and struggle,” Mary said. 

“Dr. King taught nonviolence and solving problems through getting together and loving one another,” she said.

Citing recent examples of hate in the area—swastikas painted on a car and hate fliers—Spokane’s mayor asserted calls for nonviolent commitment to overcome evil and commitment “to make life better for all, regardless of color, culture or class.”

Freda Gandy, the new director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Family Outreach Center in Spokane, told of the center’s commitment to Dr. King’s legacy by providing social and educational services to low-income families and children.  A Saturday evening concert and the Sunday celebration raised nearly $3,000 in donations to support participation of children in the programs.

MLK day Community Choir
Spokane Community Choir at MLK rally

“We develop equal respect and equal treatment,” she said.  “We ask our children:  What is your life’s blueprint?  A building is not well built without a blueprint that includes deep belief in one’s own dignity.  We let your young people know: Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are nobody.

“People need determination to achieve excellence.  We tell the children and youth that doors of opportunity are open to them that were not open to their mothers, fathers and grandparents,” Freda said.

Quoting from Dr. King, she said that if a child chooses to be a street sweeper, the center instills in him or her the will to sweep streets like Michalangelo painted and Shakespeare wrote.

“If you’re a shrub be the best shrub you can be.  Be a bush if you can’t be a tree,” she quoted.

V. Anne Smith + Karen Baker
V. Anne Smith

V. Anne Smith, president of the Spokane Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), noted the progress made because of a man “who stood for all of us.”

She challenged the audience, quoting Dr. King’s mentor, Benjamin Mays, president of Morehouse College:  “It isn’t a calamity to die with a dream.  It’s a calamity not to have a dream.”

“The journey to freedom started with a dream to achieve equality, justice and freedom, dreams of Nathaniel Turner, Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglass and many others,” V. Anne said.  “You are not a man or woman until you accept your own vision.”

On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up a seat on the bus changed a pastor—Dr. King—and eventually a nation, moving it to ensure equality, eliminate racism, secure civil rights, educate people and achieve change through nonviolence.

“Dr. King said human progress is not automatic or inevitable.  It takes time and vigorous positive action.  A minute is 60 seconds.  It’s up to you to use it.  He knew an eternity was in a tiny minute,” she said.

She told of the founding of the national NAACP in 1909 by a white woman, Mary Overton and two friends.  She had seen and did not accept the mistreatment and violence leveled on a race of people.

Ben Small, superintendent of the Central Valley School District, affirmed that education is “a powerful equalizer” and that school superintendents are committed to equal opportunity.

“There are still children who fail, but my colleagues and I are committed to reverse the trend and reform the system, to live up to the dream of Dr. King,” he said. We believe in quality of education for all, not just for some.”

Ben affirmed the importance of investing in young people so they keep their dreams alive.
He celebrated the large number of children, youth and young people among more than 2,000 participants at the rally.

MLK Crowd - Rogers
Grandfather and grandson at Martin
Luther King, Jr., rally.

“We often talk of what’s wrong with young people, but look how many are here to pause and reflect on Dr. King’s hopes, dreams and ideals,” Ben said.

“We must not lose sight of the dream,” he said.  “We must remember the example of those who came before us.  A dream never dies, just the dreamer if the dream is bigger than one person.”

Rich Hadley of Greater Spokane, Inc., spoke at the rally on behalf of the business community, expressing his gratitude for the leadership that has led to naming a street Martin Luther King Way on the southern border of the Riverpoint Campus.

“Business is diverse,” Rich said.  “We need to understand people in different cultures.  We need to employ people for their abilities and treat them fairly.  A broad diversified economy will help us weather the recession.”

County Commissioner Mark Richard said he is reminded by Martin Luther King, Jr., Day that there is work to be done together.

“The community needs to denounce hatred and crimes against others by a small minority, so we can make the community what we want it to be,” he said.  “There is no victory until all are free.”

MLK March sign
MLK Day March sign

County Commissioner Bonnie Mager recognizes that the most vulnerable people are struggling in a jobless recovery. 

“We need the inspiration of Dr. King, rather than expecting others to change the world for us,” she said.  “It’s up to us to make the changes, to walk and pass on the baton, and to be part of the solution.  We need to take hold of the new tools of technology to organize and mobilize here and across the world.

“We cannot sit by and watch others roll back the clock on Dr. King’s accomplishments.  In the midst of the overwhelming budget cuts, we must be vigilant,” she said, challenging people to recognize their power and abilities as children of God.  “We need to be liberated from fear and let our lights shine.  We have strength in the power of love.”

Copyright © February 2010 - The Fig Tree