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MLK Day Celebration reinforces “Keeping the Dream Alive”


The MLK Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Greensboro’s Human Rights Commission honored Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy with a free video production that aired at 9 a.m. Monday, January 17 on the Greensboro Television Network (GTN), Facebook, and the city’s YouTube channel.

This year marked the 35th year of the annual celebration. The first MLK Day was nationally observed in 1986; however, it wasn’t until 2000 that the day became a federal holiday in all 50 states.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s event was a video presentation, with the theme, “Keeping the Dream Alive.”

Doug Bender, chair of the Human Rights Commission said this year’s theme was intended to encourage the community to join the work of the commission.

“Dr. King was a dreamer and a doer. We continue to try to lift up that good work,” he said. “We really labored over this to make sure this year’s theme was fitting in every way. We recognize we’ve come a long way to make this world a better place, but we also know that there is much work to be done.”

The city’s video presentation also included performances by Sanaa Sharrieff, Constance Devone, and Gate City Youth Poetry, as well as recognition of the inaugural awardees of the new Morningside Homes Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship was established in 2020 by the city in remembrance of the five activists killed in the 1979 Greensboro Massacre at Morningside Homes.

Featured keynote speaker was Nikki Giovanni, a celebrated poet, author, educator and activist, who opened her discussion by reading her poem titled, “In the Spirit of Martin.” Written two decades ago, the poem was part of the Smithsonian’s 2002 traveling exhibit, “In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

In the poem, Giovanni emphasizes not to just single King out, but to also group him with all of the other names from the Civil Rights Movement. Further in the poem are references to the all-White television shows of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, that depicted an “idealized era,” while also reminding people that it was a turbulent time of constant fear for those who dared to speak up.

“I love that poem and I open with it because I wanted to bring the spirit and the spirituals. I wanted to bring the women, and I wanted to bring not only the joy, but the ethics that Martin Luther King bought to us,” said Giovanni.

She continued, “It was an important day when Martin was born. It was an important day when he created the March on Washington. It was an important day when we all marched to ‘Children, Don’t You Get Weary.’ It was an important day when we decided that America must change. And it becomes and remains an important day that we look at what is happening with our nation now.”

She referenced social issues that are heavy on the mind of Americans now, such as gun reform, justice system reform, and women’s reproductive rights, as issues that can best be addressed through love and understanding. She also mentioned that in remembering King, we must also remember his mother, Alberta Williams King, who was shot and killed in 1974 – six years after the assassination of her son – as she sat at the organ she played at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Perhaps Martin is right. Perhaps we do try to love. Love has always been difficult, no matter how you define it. Love is not just to forget. Love is also the effort and energy you put into making things better. Love is redemption of the soul,” said Giovanni, who added, “America has a lot of problems. It still does. But we represent what could be and what should be the best. It is long past due that White Americans cease being afraid of people who are different from themselves. But I think that Martin made a good point: he believed in love.”

Giovanni also made sure to acknowledge King’s connection to Greensboro. The 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement protests inspired the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins, which started in Greensboro in February 1, 1960. Four students from The North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University (then known as A&T College) began the five months long protest at the Woolworth lunch counter, which was reserved for White customers. Two years before that in 1958, King was permitted to hold a rally at Bennett College by then president Dr. Willa B. Player, after being denied access to all of the city’s public accommodations.

“Freedom is important and we will continue to fight for freedom. Greensboro is an important part of the Civil Rights Movement. If I lived there, I would write the governor that I want my license plate to read “Home of the Greensboro Four,” because that is what should be remembered,” she said.

The notable poet also shared that she has been diagnosed with lung cancer saying, “You don’t fight disease; you learn a way to live with it. And make sure that every day you wake up on this side of the dirt, you have done the best that you can do.”

Giovanni ended her remarks by encouraging people to be mindful that everyone has a place in the world and can contribute to all that life has to offer.

“I love seeing youngsters read. Reading is necessary and important. But writing songs and singing is necessary and important. You can ask the grasshopper about that because if the grasshopper had not been making music, the ants could not have had the rhythm to put away the food for winter. We forget that everything has its place and its importance. And you and I have our place and our importance. It’s not about winning. It’s not about who can make the most money. It’s about the joy of life and the use of whatever length of life that we have, that we do our best to make ourselves and our ancestors proud.”

Director of the city’s Human Rights Department, Dr. Love Crossling, noted that although change can come slowly, an ability that all humans have is the ability to grow empathy towards one another.

“We are thankful for everything that Dr. King has done to bring us to this point in history where we are still yet pressing towards equity, inclusion and diversity for all,” she said. “We can do the work that it takes in order to push forward to make sure that what we appreciate everyday as rights and privileges, also belongs to our fellow community members equally. Let us all commit to what it means to change in that way - to grow in empathy.”

Following the breakfast every year, a MLK Day Parade and a citywide community service event with The Volunteer Center is held, but had to be rescheduled this year due to inclement weather.