Annual tributes and commemorations of the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which begin nationwide Friday, typically involve a combination of politics, faith and community service.
For this year’s celebration, the 37th since its federal recognition in 1986, the King descendant hopes to spark progress by helping more Americans embrace the ongoing struggle for racial equality and harmony. Bernice King, daughter of the late civil rights icon, said people need to move beyond catchphrases and deepen their own commitments to the progress needed.
“We have to change our mindset,” said King, who is CEO of The King Center in Atlanta.
Under the “It Starts With Me” theme, the center kicked off its list of Martin Luther King Jr. Day events Thursday. with youth and adult summits to educate the public about ways to transform unjust systems in the US.
The summits were broadcast online and are available for replay on the center’s social media accounts.
“We seem to go through these cycles because we try to approach everything with the same mindset that all of this (racial injustice) was created,” King told The Associated Press.
“Change may be very small,” she said, “but transformation means that we have now changed the character, form, and nature of something. That’s something we haven’t seen before.”
King’s other weekend events include the unveiling of a statue in Boston, a symposium on police brutality in Akron, Ohio, and community service projects in numerous American cities. The holiday ushers in another year of advocacy for a racial justice agenda — from police reforms and strengthening voting rights to addressing economic and educational disparities — that have been thwarted by culture wars and partisan issues in Washington and across the country.
Residents of Selma, Alabama, which played a central role in King’s legacy, woke up Friday to widespread damage from a deadly storm system that spawned tornadoes in the South. The city became a hotbed of the civil rights movement when statemen viciously attacked blacks who marched nonviolently for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965.
King was not present at the march known as “Bloody Sunday,” but he joined the subsequent procession that successfully crossed the bridge toward the Capitol in Montgomery. Pettus Bridge was unscathed in Thursday’s storm.
On Sunday morning, President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak at a memorial service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic Atlanta church where King preached from 1960 until his assassination in 1968. The church is pastored by the Rev. Senator Raphael Warnock, who recently won election to a full term as Georgia’s first black U.S. senator.
And on Monday, the federal King holiday, commemorations continue in Atlanta, as well as in the nation’s capital and beyond.
Roar. Al Sharpton, who got his start as a civil rights organizer in his teens as the youth director of an anti-poverty project at King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, will hold his annual King’s Holiday events in Washington, DC and New York on Monday. Martin Luther King III is expected to attend Sharpton’s breakfast gala in Washington with his wife, Drum Major Institute President Arndrea Waters King, who will be honored along with former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Sharpton, the founder and president of the National Action Network, is scheduled to convene more than 30 prominent state and local elected officials in New York Monday afternoon for a public policy forum at the House of Justice, his organization’s Harlem headquarters.
In the decades since its inception, the royal holiday has become an opportunity for elected officials and candidates seeking office to make a case for civil rights and social justice. Bernice King said partisanship among politicians is a major obstacle to legislative solutions to civil rights.
Overcoming that “will require elevating yourself to a place where your loyalty is to humanity, not to the party,” she said.
“Unless we find humane ways to create policies and implement practices from those policies, we will continue this vicious cycle of a downward spiral toward destruction and chaos.”
Outside of establishment politics, many of King’s holiday weekend events are opportunities for Americans to give back, reflect on the civil rights icon’s legacy, or tackle racial discrimination locally in their own communities.
A massive Martin Luther King Jr. monument is scheduled to be dedicated Friday in Boston, where the leader first met his wife, Coretta Scott King. In the early 1950s he was a doctoral student in theology at Boston University and she was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music.
The $10 million sculpture called “The Embrace,” consisting of four intertwined arms, was inspired by a photo of the kings embracing when King Jr. learned that he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. It was designed by Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group and was selected from 126 submissions.
Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of EmbraceBoston, the organization behind the memorial, noted the significance of the statue’s location on Boston Common, America’s oldest public park and a high-traffic area with millions of city residents and visitors walking its paths each year.
“I think Boston has the reputation of this city of heroes and abolitionists like W.E.B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass, along with the reputation of being unfriendly and in some cases described as racist. So there is a tension between these two images of Boston. Having a monument is part of our intention to change the perspective of our city.”
In Akron, Ohio, the family of Jayland Walker, the 25-year-old black man killed after police shot him 46 times as he fled last July, will hold a public safety and mental health symposium with local human rights leaders. Saturday. Walker’s case received widespread attention from activists, including the King family.
And for the seventh year, the WK Kellogg Foundation will celebrate the National Day of Racial Healing after the royal holiday. On Tuesday, communities across the country are scheduled to hold town halls to continue the dialogue about the healing the foundation says is necessary to achieve racial equality.
“No matter who you are, there is a healing path that everyone needs to consider,” said La June Montgomery Tabron, CEO of the Kellogg Foundation. “We have all been affected by racism.
Associated Press writer Mark Pratt in Boston contributed to this report. Aaron Morrison is a member of the AP’s race and ethnicity team based in New York. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.