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Pride Shines in Southfield’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Peace Walk

Pride Shines in Southfield’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Peace Walk

(Rebecca Hammond, Jan. 18, 2018)

Southfield, MI -Even if you know ahead of time that you’re about to attend Michigan’s largest and longest-running event honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the reality of the size and scope will outshine your preconceptions.

Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield is the sponsoring church of the yearly event, and the march down Civic Center Drive to the massive space inside the civic center begins there. Despite snow and wind and temperatures in the teens, the march was huge. There is something about this yearly experience of celebrating this great man that shines out from participants. Faces light up with smiles. The sense of honor is palpable.

Two things shone out inside the Southfield Civic Center: an amazing display of community diversity, and young people speaking and performing with immense pride. The theme of this 33rd celebration of King’s life 50 years after his death was “Passing the Torch to the Next Generation”, and that generation comported itself with dignity, beginning with the invocation by students from the Farber Hebrew Day School.

The crowd had already taken their seats as the Levey Middle School Marching Band played (high school bands might aspire to play as well), then Thomas Calhoun, a senior at University High Academy, made opening remarks. The diversity was almost a pageant of the best the young have to offer, as the mostly-African-American Levey Band was followed by the youth orchestra from St. Andrew Kim Korean Catholic church, from Northville, and the India Culture Dance Group. The subdued black of the orchestra and their somber choice in music was wonderfully contrasted by the exuberance and bright costumes of the Indian dancers. The packed space was surrounded by tables of community organizations and historically-black colleges and universities, as well as restaurants providing food for the crowd free of cost. Elected officials from the federal, state, and local level marched and were recognized. The Southfield Police and Fire Departments were present, both outside for protection and presenting the colors inside. A remarkable young saxophonist from the Birney Middle School Jazz band played a simple and stirring National Anthem. MLK Task Force President Patricia Haynie received special recognition, as she suffered a stroke just before Thanksgiving and was able to appear and address the crowd.

Chris Simpson of Tau Kappa Kappa, one of many of the historically-black fraternities marching and providing information at displays ringing the event space, voiced concerns over current national leadership. He felt that recent comments were “sad and disheartening,” but he also saw this as an “opportunity for the community,” a chance to come together. He mentioned Dr. King’s ongoing emphasis on focusing on “the content of characters” as being a contrast to recent remarks. Simpson’s fraternity provided hot chocolate for marchers, as they’ve done for years.

Dr. King was a frequent presence in the midwest, and it’s hard to find a city he didn’t speak in. He addressed 60,000 people at Soldier Field in Chicago, and lived with his family for a time in North Lawndale on the west side of Chicago. He first visited Cleveland in 1956, returning a number of times, including a few days after winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Milwaukee’s newspapers didn’t even bother covering Dr. King’s first visit to the city in 1956, but his second filled Milwaukee Auditorium to standing-room-only capacity in 1964. Five months before his death, he spoke in Buffalo. He spoke at Scott High School in Toledo, and at Central United Methodist Church in Detroit (nicknamed “the conscience of Detroit”) so many times, he was eventually asked to take over as pastor. (Dr. King responded that he might consider it at a later time, if his work in civil rights ever allowed it). He originally gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in Detroit at Cobo Arena in 1963, after over a hundred thousand people marched down Woodward Avenue. That march commemorated a nearly-forgotten race riot from 20 years prior, and included the mayor of Detroit Jerome Cavanaugh, and UAW president Walter Reuther. And that speech was recorded by a subsidiary of Motown Records, and released as a single.

Dr. King: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” The torch is passed to a new generation of dedicated individuals. They are up to the task.

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