The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday events, on Monday, January 21st, in Atlanta, began with an annual Commemorative Service at Ebeneezer Baptist Church. Ebeneezer Baptist Church is located at the MLK Jr. Center, which became a National Historical Park a year ago, via an Act of Congress, and which closed due to the Partial Government shutdown that ran from December 22nd through January 25th. The park reopened for the King Holiday because of a grant from Delta Airlines, which gauranteed the park would be open from the King Holiday weekend through the Super Bowl, if needed.
The Commemorative service included a children's choir from South Korea, along with a dramatization of the legendary Civil Rights demonstrations. A march followed the Commemorative service in the afternoon, that began in Downtown Atlanta on Peachtree Street and turned onto Historic Auburn Avenue. The Department of Peacebuilding Campaign banner was carried in the Activists section of the march, and fliers were distributed, announcing the upcoming introduction of the Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2019. The fliers included the contact information of the following Atlanta area Members of Congress to contact for original cosponsorship of the bill: Congressman John Lewis (D-GA- CD5), Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA CD4), Freshman Congresswoman Lucy McBath (D-GA-CD6) and Congressman David Scott (D-GA-CD13).
The march ended at the rally, between Ebeneezer Baptist Church and the platform with the burial site of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King. Rally speakers included Dr. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. Corretta Scott King, and the King Center CEO, Freshman Congresswoman Lucy McBath (D-GA-6), who defeated Republican Congresswoman Karen Handel, and flipped a district that has not been represented by a Democrat in decades, and others. The rally ended with Dr. Bernice King leading the crowd in signing "We Shall Overcome", followed by the crowd doing the "Waddle Baby, Waddle" line dance.
The march was followed by the "Beloved Community Talks" to "Bridge the Racial Divide" which occurred in the Yolanda Denise King Theater for the Performing Arts at the King Center National Park. The talks were hosted by Moderator Terrence Jenkins, a TV personality and actor, and were comprised of three conversations.
Conversation One was entitled "Bridging the Racial Divide: A Look at the NFL...Community Engagement and Social Responsibility", and included Dr. Bernice King, CEO of the King Center, Brett Daniels, COO of the Atlanta Superbowl Host Committee, Chris Draft, a former NFL player and Brittany Packnett, Vice President of National Community Alliances of Teach for America. Brett Daniels said "We want to use the Host Committee as a catalyst", and that" Atlanta is the perfect place to be for what is happening in the league" . "The legacy of Dr. King "calls ........us to ask why charity is needed in the first place, and to engage in solidarity so that charity is not needed: taking care of the root, rather than the branches" was also stated.
Dr. Bernice King said "We need to take responsibility of what is going on in the community, and get to the root. We have been addressing the symptoms. Black Lives Matter has been pushing back". And, Chris Draft said" We can "use Atlanta for a launching pad for change."
Conversation Two was entitled "Influencers Role in Bridging the Racial Divide" and dealt with how social media plays into the racial divide. The conversation included Jake Evans, ESQ of the Atlanta Young Republicans, Janielle Jones, the Georgia GOP Deputy State Director, Janee Bolden, editor, writer and television personality and Nick D. Thomas, an advocate from Hosteling International. In the conversation, Janielle Jones, who is African American, and was attracted to the Republican Party due to the party's influence and ability to stand for smaller government, said that "any organization that has a platform should always take a stand for what is right."
Conversation Three was entitled "Beyond the Racial Divide...A Journey to Reconciliation", and featured Micheal Kent, a former White Supremacist and Neo NAZI, along with Tiffany Whittier, a Black Probation Officer who reached out to Kent, who had been incarcerated. Whittier visited Kent alone, at home; starting a friendship that endures, and that changed the lives of both of them. Both live in Arizona.
Conversation Three was the most memorable, and proves that radicalization has root causes. Kent experienced several traumatic experiences, and rather than reach out to a counseling center, reached out to the Neo NAZIS, instead. The Conversation also proved that being willing to reach out in friendship can bridge the gap and lead to real healing.
The evening ended with a walk by the tomb of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs Coretta Scott King, at which a wreath was laid, on January 15th, the day that would have been the slain Civil Right's Leader's ninetieth birthday; annually observed as a national holiday.