MLK celebrations to focus on Dr. King’s work for poor, economic justice

When members of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration Planning Committee were first coming up with a theme for this year’s events, they had a challenge.

The 2009 theme, “Honor the Past and Protect the Future” was tough to top, chair Sharon Hannum said.

“Themes are always challenging for us, especially since we had so many things come out of the last celebration,” she said, citing the Blount Achieves scholarship program as most noteworthy.

The Blount Achieves scholarship program was started after Martin Luther King, Jr., Business Luncheon speaker Oliver “Buzz” Thomas challenged the listeners to start a program to create scholarships to two-year schools for any individuals who graduate from one of the four high schools in Blount County. The program is similar to the Knox Achieves program in Knoxville.

But inspiration for the 2011 theme hit when a college-aged member of the planning committee didn’t know about Dr. King’s “War on Poverty” or “The Poor People’s Campaign” and his fight for economic justice, Hannum said.

“That how we came to this theme -- Revive the Spirit, Realize the Dream. It is about not only Dr. King’s dream but reviving the spirit and passion behind the dream,” Hannum said. “It’s like Christianity -- it’s a process. It’s not something you’ll ever be finished with. It is something that is always on-going.”

Hannum said Dr. King is so well-remembered for his fight for equality that they often forget the other parts of his message.

“People get so lost in Dr. King and his fight for equality and racial justice, but he was also for justice for everyone,” she said.

“Given what goes on in our country now, and the fact that we have a black president who was elected in 2008, we put our focus on poverty for this year’s celebration,” she said. “Once you have made some progress, the danger is you think there is nothing left to do, so we began to think, ‘how do we revive the dream and spirit behind the dream.”

In accordance with the theme, Hannum said, the activities planned for the week focus on racial equality and economic justice.

The activities for the week include:

Community Fellowship Dinner at New Providence Presbyterian Church -- 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11, for the Faith Community Fellowship and “The Welcome Table.” Bring a dish, entrée provided.

Hannum said the Community Fellowship Dinner was one of first events the committee started doing in 1982. “We were reaching out to the religious community because that is where Dr. King was. We were trying to get as many churches involved as possible,” she said. “Over time, it has been disappointing. It has become the least attended of our activities, so I actually gave some thought to discontinuing that particular fellowship because we still have the worship service on Sunday.”

However, once the committee decided to focus on poverty, they realized there are a lot of good ministries that churches in the area are doing to feed the hungry. New Providence Presbyterian Church’s Welcome Table offers a free meal to anyone who comes to the church every Tuesday evening. Hannum said the planning committee decided they should help by serving at the meal. “The Welcome Table at New Providence just seemed to get us reenergized about things that work in our passion for justice and our passion for helping others,” she said. “For us, our joy is serving others, including our fellow Blount Countians. We wanted to let them know we do love our community enough to serve.”

The community is encouraged to join the committee in serving that night. To help, call Hannum at 865-984-9674.

“MLK and the Poor People’s Campaign Revisited” -- 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 13, at Maryville College Alumni Gym.

Jim Sessions with Jobs for Justice, Pam McMichael with the Highlander Research Center and Paula McGhee, local historian and community leader, will speak. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m., and the panel presentations will be held at 6 p.m.

Hannum said all three speakers are going to bring presentations from their own points of view as to how it relates to the Poor People’s Campaign and its transformation from 50 years ago to today. “We’re about to embark on a new decade. How different are things today in 2011 as compared to 1951?” she said. “The community forum will bridge the history of Dr. King’s work, the current challenges and possible solutions in our community.”

Hannum said McGhee’s thesis is on African Americans in Appalachia. “She is going to come in and give a perspective of local history from a black viewpoint. She can speak very well as to how blacks integrated into our county and how local history is as it relates to the African American viewpoints,” Hannum said. “We thought she would be an excellent person to talk about local history and community leadership.”

Sessions and McMichael will talk about their programs. Sessions will discuss the topic from the standpoint of worker justice and how those issues are still current, Hannum said.

McMichael will talk about the Highlander Center and how it has been instrumental since back in the 1950s.

“It was the only social justice network in East Tennessee and has a history with Dr. King,” Hannum said.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Business Luncheon -- Noon, Friday, Jan. 14, at the Airport Hilton. Keynote speaker is Mike Ragsdale, former mayor of Knox County.

“Last year’s luncheon was such a success. We wanted to continue with the theme that created Blount Achieves,” she said. “Buzz challenged us last year in such way that this community is stepping up to the plate to emphasize the importance of education. Education ties into this and is the key to economic justice. Education is key as to what kind of life you’re going to have.”

Movie Night: “To Kill a Mockingbird” -- Friday, Jan. 14, at the Palace Theater at 7 p.m. in Downtown Maryville.

Hannum said the committee chose this classic movie because it seemed more relevant to issues people talk about today. “We felt it needed to be revisited as refresher and as a learning opportunity for our youth and college-age students,” she said.

“American Spiritual Ensemble” -- Saturday, 8 p.m., in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theater of Clayton Center for the Arts.

Hannum said the American Spiritual Ensemble is a nationally renowned troupe. “George Williams with the Alcoa City Center was vital in bringing them. We were happy to have this be a part of our weeklong of events,” she said. “It resonated with our spirit, and, if young people don’t know stories of racial and social justice and the War on Poverty, we felt they probably didn’t know the history of the American negro spiritual.”

Hannum said the songs are a part of African American people’s lives. “We grew up hearing them and, at some point, we were taught about them,” she said. “This group is making sure this music is never in danger of disappearing.”

Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for students for premium seats and $20 for adults and $12 for students for economy seats.

Community Worship Service -- Sunday, Jan. 16 at First Baptist Church of Maryville at 4 p.m. Speaker is the Rev. Ezra Maize from the First A.M.E. Zion Church in Knoxville.

“The Worship service is something near and dear to all of us. For me, personally, it is probably my favorite part of the week. I love worship and the Lord,” she said. “The minister who is coming to speak is younger, and he’s very passionate about the Lord, and it shows in his delivery.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration and Parade March -- Noon for the parade and 2 p.m. for the program.

The Parade march is from the M. L. King, Jr., Community Center on Franklin Street in Alcoa to the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theater of the Clayton Center for the Arts.

Assemble for the parade at the community center at 12:15 p.m. The march begins at 12:30 p.m., and the program at the Clayton Center for the Arts begins at 2 p.m. Keynote speaker is the Rev. Dr. Gloria Ward Wright, author, motivational speaker, Civil Rights activist from Atlanta.

Hannum said the Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration has grown throughout the years, but participation in the march has always depended on the weather, she said.

“With all the history of the peaceable freedom marches of the days of Dr. King and what they symbolize, people want to participate,” Hannum said. “Normally we have anywhere from 50 to 100, it just depends on the weather.”

Hannum said she met Dr. Wright in Atlanta when Hannum’s son introduced them. “I met her just by coincidence. You never know how God is going to move. I was in Atlanta visiting my son. We were both getting into the online business, and my son had met her earlier. Because of her spiritual background, he felt we would connect,” she said.

Hannum said that as the planning for the celebration was going on, she remember Wright.

“She was a teenager in the civil rights movement. The name of her book is “From the Back of the Line.” She also runs a wedding chapel in Atlanta and is a motivational speaker,” Hannum said. “I’m really excited she is going to be able to be here. She has a lot of perspective from her actual participation in civil rights movement.”

Wright was jailed four times for protesting segregation in her hometown of Albany, Ga. “People sometimes think justice work is for adults, but it can start early. It is not always up to adults. You can start now serving your community, your country and your God,” Hannum said.

As part of the celebration, a community choir is forming to lead the celebration. Hannum said the public is invited to join the MLK Mass Choir and participate with the choir. Rehearsal will be held again at 6 p.m. Jan. 10 and 11 at St. John Baptist Church, 178 Bessie Harvey Ave., Alcoa; 6 p.m. Jan. 13 at Maryville First Baptist Church, 202 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville; and dress rehearsal at 4 p.m. Jan. 15 at the Ronald and Linda Nutt Theatre, Clayton Center for the Arts.

The Mass Choir is set to perform at the Community Worship Service on Jan. 16 and at the MLK Celebration on Jan. 17, Hannum said.

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