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Martin Luther King Day goes online

By Mary Stamp

For Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2022, Gonzaga, Eastern Washington, and Whitworth universities and the Martin Luther King Community Center collaborated to present "A Dream Remembered: The Past, Present and Future of Black Excellence" Jan. 17.

About 80 gathered on Zoom to celebrate King's life, legacy and leadership, guided through words, songs and dance by Tere Graham, Gonzaga's program manager for social justice programming at Unity Multicultural Education Center.

Jackie Lee, GU Black Student Union president read a poem, "Soldier for Civil Rights," describing exhaustion in the fight: "I get up and I'm shot down. I get up again and I'm shot down." When black leaders are not heard, she said, "I'm only toughened by my scars that turn to steel. I wonder what it would be like to not always have to be a soldier."

Robin Kelley, Gonzaga's new chief diversity officer, said King challenged racism, poverty and militarism, seeking to end them with nonviolence and civil disobedience.

"Civil disobedience is resisting obedience to unjust government demands with nonviolent means," she said, quoting King: "Civil disobedience is not lawlessness, but a higher form of lawfulness that brings about obedience to bring human laws to conform with divine laws."

While the global pandemic, Jan. 6 insurrection, voter suppression laws and 7,759 hate crimes in 2021 highlighted inequities, Robin sees changes: The FBI warns about white supremacist groups. Shifting demographics will make America multicultural by 2042.

King, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was arrested 29 times, saw nonviolent response as crucial and twice as effective as violence in changing lives, relationships and communities.

Robin said nonviolence is not passivity or acceptance. It's about working in solidarity and inclusion despite being knocked down.

Janese Howard, a Shadle Park High School student, admires MLK for standing for truth, fairness and equality. Before singing, "What a Wonderful World," she said "if his dream became reality, this world would be a wonderful world."

Scott Finnie, head of EWU's Africana Studies Department, reflected on the past and King's awareness that "there were many ugly pages in American history that were obscured and forgotten, but America owes a debt to African Americans." He asserted "this country could be great but lacks the indispensable element of greatness, which is justice."

With 225 years of slavery until 1865, segregation lasted from 1619 to 1964.

"Jim Crow separated people by more than skin color. It also separated them by the mythical idea that blacks were inferior. Jim Crow was a fictitious character played by white minstrels, portraying blacks as mindless buffoons," he said.

King went after both outward and inward characterizations of the myth of inferiority. In his "I Have a Dream" speech and others, he sought to change African Americans inside, Scott said.

"King used nonviolence as a powerful, just weapon that cuts without wounding, because wounding leads to more physical violence. Non-violence ennobles the one who wields it, transforming leaders, inspiring, mobilizing and empowering us to look at ourselves," he continued.

For too long African Americans saw themselves through others' perceptions, measuring their soul by how the world saw them with amusement and contempt, he said. MLK and Malcolm X changed black's interior perceptions so they could sit at the table with others.

King thought justice would come as systems of injustice were overturned.

Scott calls for "rising up again" and embracing activism as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act have now been suspended in 19 states.

"We still need to work to bring the imperative of justice and dignity for all," he said.

Michael Betheley, co-chair of the Inland Northwest Juneteenth Coalition, quoted King: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. Be light and love."

"Our reality was once someone's dream for hope, for education, to own land, to raise children. They desired strongly to change, exceed their limits, break their bonds and chains. A dream is not a mirage. It can be attained. Make your dream a reality," he challenged.

Freda Gandy, director of the MLK Community Center, reminisced how usually 3,000 people would gather at the Spokane Convention Center before marching on the streets.

"We can still make space to honor MLK, which our center does 365 days a year," she said.

"I came to the MLK Center 21 years ago as a single mother with a four-year-old and began to volunteer," said Freda, who came at 18 from Mississippi, not knowing she would go days before she saw another person of color.

At EWU, she studied social work to be a school counselor. She said Scott's mentoring and meeting other students of color gave her a sense of belonging.

Today the MLK Community Center is a 52-year-old nonprofit social service agency that began as a drop-in recreation center as a safe place for youth. It is a comprehensive social service agency.

The center improves the quality of life for children, youth and families through culturally responsive educational and social services under King's vision of equal respect, treatment and accessibility for all.

It serves three-year-olds to adults in their 80s, offering early learning, before and after school programs, family services, senior services, a community court and a food bank.

"I encourage people to get involved with the center 365 days," she said. "In addition to our diverse staff who represent the multicultural, multiethnic people we serve, we need volunteers."

By sharing her story as a stressed single mother on public assistance, Freda communicates her understanding of parents as she seeks to help them be the best parents they can be. She is grateful for all the mentors who listened and helped her be the leader she is today.

"Although we can't have a rally and march, I am thankful we can gather to honor MLK and his dream, which is our responsibility each and every day," she said.

Mona Martin of the Spokane Children's Dance Center danced with a colorful dress and banners to words and music on King's dream.

Stephy Nobles Beans, associate chaplain for diversity equity and inclusion ministries at Whitworth University, author and screenwriter, praised King's dream that his four children would be judged by the content of their character and all would be seen as created equal.

"Looking at the past, present and future, we see the legacy of heroes and sheroes, leaders and trailblazers of black excellence who gave their best," she said. "They left a path for young people to follow with their blood and tears, their rallies and protests. They lifted their voices to sing for justice, freedom and equality.

"From the tapestry of slavery, bearing in 400 years of pain, black youth can weave a tapestry for the future, remembering they are from the legacy of kings and queens," Stephy said, challenging them to remember they are future stakeholders, leaders, creators and professionals.

"Remember and dream. You are the innovators and entrepreneurs who will impact our future and the world because you are young, gifted and blessed. I dare you to dream. You are the future. You are black excellence," she added, sharing her message for black young people, especially her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to be the best they can be.

"We need all voices," she affirmed in closing. "It's not just a black thing. It's not a white thing. It's about all people remembering the dream."

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February, 2022