It's Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, and all over the Inland Northwest, colleges, churches and civic groups will be celebrating Dr. King's dream of equality for all and community building. Though most people get the day off from school and work, Governor Gary Locke is encouraging everyone to make it 'a day on, not a day off' by participating in volunteer work or community projects.
There's been a Martin Luther King Jr. Day March in Spokane for many years, but this year the event is taking on a whole new look, trying to engage as many different people and diverse population groups as possible.
"We have really diversified it this year. Traditionally people tend to think of this as a 'black day,' but really Martin Luther King's dream is not just about black people," says Vickie Countryman, the co-chair of the 2001 Martin Luther King Jr. planning committee and the equity director for Spokane School District 81. "We are going to have Native American drummers and Celtic bagpipes and many other things there as well."
A community fair and rally will begin at 9:30 am on Monday, Jan. 15, at River Park Square. Gospel choirs will perform and 27 volunteer community organizations, such as Cancer Patient Care and the Ronald McDonald House, will have tables set up to present their projects.
"We are also having some students come in to do a call for youth action," says Countryman. "It's probably not possible for those of us who are adults today to see Martin Luther King's dream come true, but it is indeed possible for those who are still young."
The Freedom March begins at 11 am and will be followed by a short program and some refreshments. After the march, Spokane School District 81 will be putting on some workshops at the central administration offices on North Bernard. Students, parents and guardians can do craft workshops, see a short film on race relations and explore Dr. King's dream through an open forum. These programs run from 1-3 pm and are free.
Eastern Washington University's Martin Luther King Jr. Day speaker focuses on children and community building as well, but from a slightly different perspective.
"We have to start looking at children, as if children are sacred. Then look at who we are and how we treat people who are sacred," says Dr. Andrew Griffin, assistant superintendent for higher education in the state of Washington. "The things we do with our children should be intentional. Here's an example: Just say 'good morning' and 'thank you.' Just recognize the teenager. Don't look at the green hair and the pierced nose and all that. Just recognize the person as they are going through some changes, look at the inside and not the outside."
Griffin says children and teenagers today have very limited chances of participating in community building because they are treated as babies, not as persons with a real contribution to make.
"When you look at babies, everyone is like, 'Yes, oh, they are so cute.' Then you give them 13- or 14-year-old children, and people go 'Arrghh,' " he says. "What happened with the green hair, and where did they learn to speak like that?"
Teens are a largely untapped resource, Griffin adds, and they could be a very valuable tool in building stronger communities. And that, he says, is what Dr. King's dream is all about.
"Dr. King said, 'I want people to look at the character of the person not the color of the person.' He said children are sacred and should be measured by the content of their character, not by anything else," says Griffin, who'll be speaking on Unity in the Community in Showalter Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 16. "If we really take this as a truth, then Dr. King also said this is a collective problem, not a black or a brown problem. There has to be a unifying factor when we start building stronger communities."
In keeping with the more traditional civil rights theme, Washington State University in Pullman is going to be hosting former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President Benjamin L. Hooks.
"We feel really fortunate to bring him here," says Kim Proctor, chair of WSU's Martin Luther King 2001 committee. "He's a friend of our president, Lane Rawlins. We expect more than 1,000 people to show up for his talk."
Hooks, who was the director of NAACP from 1977-92, was a personal friend of Dr. King and a member of the original Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was the first black judge in the South since Reconstruction and later became the first African American member of the Federal Communications Commission under President Nixon.
Prior to his talk on Wednesday, Jan. 17, at 7 pm, Hooks will join students, faculty and community members for WSU's Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in the mall in front of the Holland Library. The march begins at 6 pm.
"We are trying to stay with the theme of Monday being 'a day on, not a day off,' a day to do something rather than nothing," says Proctor. "We'll be having a food drive at the Pullman Safeway, with all the donations going to the Pullman Food Bank."
& & & lt;i & Participants must make reservations for District 81's Jan. 15 workshops. Call: 354-7362. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &
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