By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Each year, many institutions and groups stage their annual tributes to Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. during the MLK Holiday that is observed on the third Monday of January. It is the day closest to his January 15th date of birth.This year’s observances were on January 16.
Four decades since the King holiday was put on the calendar, marches and speeches have highlighted his legacy and good works as a Civil Rights icon.
Recently the GUIDE posed the question to activists, faith leaders, civil rights, and political leaders: “How can Dr. King’s Legacy be recognized throughout the year, and not just mid-January?”
In Lexington, Va., Rev. Reginald A. Early is the Pastor of the Randolph Street United Methodist Church. He is also President and co-founder of the Committee Anti-Racism Effort (CARE), Rockbridge. It is a racially diverse group that plans the annual MLK parade in that area since 2017.
Rev. Early said during the first year, members of Sons of Confederate Veterans and people bearing flags staged a counter demonstration in full regalia to honor Robert E. Lee.
“There was no violence. Never seen anything like it. It’s a sight to behold” he said. “For 20 years, they’ve come out. They have no shame. But it just shows you the importance of how we must address the issue of racism every day throughout the year.”
“You have a governor fighting against CRT (Critical Race Theory) which is not taught in any public school,” said Early. “That is just a code word to attack Black History and civil rights. Remember his administration did not mention Dr. King or President Obama in the
drafts of proposed content in state history textbooks.”
“Every (King) Holiday we must have forums to discuss the importance of Dr. King’s work. We must remind ourselves that Virginia is not blue yet and be vigilant.”
Former WAVY-TV10 anchor Don Roberts was one of the keynote speakers at Norfolk’s annual MLK Day observance at the Attucks Theater.
“There are three things I think we can consider, starting with being excellent in all we do,” said Roberts. “This includes sweeping up the trash or planning a million dollars budget for public services.”
“Second give a damn about yourself…Invest in yourself,” said Roberts. “Third, reach out to someone who may be struggling, and has less than you. Find the King inside you and use it to make a difference each day.”
Newly elected Norfolk City Councilperson John “JP” Paige, who represents Ward 4, believes we can observe Dr. King’s legacy daily “first by teaching our young people about his sacrifices and work.”
“Young people must be taught and told the truth about Dr. King and Black history,” said Paige. “They have a distorted view of him. He was more than about making speeches and marching.”
Paige said that it is the responsibility of the family first and educational institutions to do this.
“Unfortunately, the family does not gather as we once did…on Sunday for dinner to talk about our community, our history, and other important issues facing our people. This is when the children were trained to listen to the importance of education, family, and community. This is where they once learned about the civil rights movement and Dr. King. We must go back to these traditions to help realize Dr. King’s Dream.”
Rev. Rufus King is still a leader in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Danville, Va. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. visited Danville to lend support to the ongoing civil rights activities there in the mid-1960s.
Rev. King said the National SCLC headquartered in Atlanta, led by National President Dr. Charles Steele, has not been as visible or active nationally over the past decade.
“We are still speaking out on injustice statewide,” said Rev. King. “We are hosting programs and going into the schools to talk to the youth about our work and Dr. King.”
Andrew Shannon, the President of the Peninsula SCLC, says his group still organizes rallies and annual tributes to King.
Shannon said his group has been “making noise” often before the Newport News and Hampton city councils speaking about economic and political issues, which challenge the rights of Black and poor people.
Rev. King said the SCLC and other groups such as the NAACP may be overshadowed by Black Lives Matter (BLM) and others led by Generation X and Z. Yet, SCLC is still working. He said social media has given civil rights activism a more powerful platform to reach more people throughout the year nationally.
King said the new Civil Rights Movement is challenged by Right-wing Christian Nationalists and the Republican party which are determined to slow progress locally and nationally.
“Our backs are against the wall as we see some of the same challenges Dr. King faced half a century ago,” he said. “We have Republican governors fighting against equity, Dr. King and his movement being mentioned in textbooks, and oppressing the Black and Latino vote.”
“So, we must confront those barriers,” he said. “At the same time, we must find ways to reach out and educate our people and be vigilant about what lawmakers are doing every day.”
Brandon Randleman, 32, is one of those new activists who applies the new and old strategies as a civil rights and social justice activist.
Randleman, Petersburg, Va., political and social rights activist, said throughout the year he makes sure to mention King’s work and to use quotes from Dr. King’s speeches while speaking at events, regardless of the occasion.
He said that it is important not only for churches and civil rights groups, but also political, fraternal, and social organizations to promote the idea of civil rights and King’s legacy using traditional and new social media platforms to educate the masses.
“A voteless people are a helpless people” is a voting rights project launched by his fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha back in the 1930s, according to Randleman. Dr. King was a member and voting rights were a key element of activism.
“But it is not just important to register and then not vote in November,” he said. “We must follow up and make sure we keep track of the bills elected officials are working on (in order) to hold them accountable. Also, to elect and support the right people regardless of their party affiliation to political office.”
Barbara Hamm Lee hosts the weekly radio call-in show “Another View” on the local public radio station WHRV.
To highlight King’s legacy all year, she said we must, “first pay attention to the political leaders to make sure they are not passing laws that are unfair, especially toward people of color.”
“Second, care about people as human beings,” she said. “Third, call out racism as it is without getting angry as Dr. King did…we must stop cowering on this issue.”
“We must make sure that we are not racist and biased,” she said. “And, finally, we must live the Dream every day. We must work and volunteer to bring people together and not divide them apart.”
Norfolk Mayor Kenneth C. Alexander said that “despite some progress, social, economic, and environmental inequality impacts our lowest-income families the most.”
Alexander said, “Dr. King realized to solve life’s problems, especially the most profound ones—racism, poverty, and war— we can’t accept business as usual.”
Alexander said throughout the year Americans must take issue with the racial and gender wage and income gaps and the digital divide in the United States, where racial minorities have lower levels of
information and communication technology access.
“As a result,” he continued, “they lack the knowledge and skills needed to be competitive. We must be unsettled that the United States, the most powerful country in the world, has over a half of million
people homeless; (we must be) troubled by the health disparities of low-income families and low-wage workers.”