Keeping Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Dream Alive

BY: JASON DEAN, Streetvibes Editor

If on April 4, 1968, Revered. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had survived being shot at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis he might have turned 83-years-old this month. There is no doubt in people’s minds about the legacy that followed Dr. King’s death, but there could be endless debate as to what would he have done with those extra 44 years had he lived. What might the country have looked like if Martin Luther King Jr. had continued to into the 21st Century with his activism?

Monday, January 16, 2012, many hundreds gathered downtown outside the Freedom Center to celebrate and remember the achievements of Dr. King, but a smaller gathering started the march from across the river in Newport, Kentucky. Occupy Cincinnati was invited by the MLK Jr. Coalition to join them in a ceremonial ringing of the World Peace Bell to acknowledge how the activism of the Occupy Movement today is a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement of past years. The spirit of social justice and civil equality runs through history into the present.

Hundreds of people march up Vine Street toward Fountain Square. Photo: Jason Dean

The Occupiers had got there early to enjoy a breakfast together before braving the cold with their signs and banners; however, it was not actually that cold. For mid January it was the type of mild above freezing winter’s day that taps you on the shoulder and reminds you of Global Warming issues. After the ringing of the bell, the Occupiers set off through Newport and across the Taylor-Southgate Central Bridge, chanting as they marched; into Cincinnati and upward and onward toward the Freedom Center.

A hundred or so were already waiting at the Freedom Center, but not long after the Occupiers arrived other groups began to convene at the museum: Planned Parenthood gaining signatures, Public Allies, The Alpha Esquires Youth Group, Omega Psi Phi, and others. The Red Cross provided much appreciated hot drinks to keep the crowd warm and jovial. Police cars closed off the section of Vine Street outside the Freedom Center, and before long it was filled with people of all ages and races, gathered to remember the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo: Jason Dean

The day’s official program began at 10:30 a.m. when TV and radio’s Courtis Fuller, the charismatic master of ceremonies, addressed the gathering with his broad grin and energized voice. More subdued reflections and prayers were then led by Pastor Michael Suggs, of the Light of the World Ministries, and Tarek Elmessidi, of the Islamic Association of Cincinnati, but all speakers were well received with rapt attention from most of the crowd. Shortly after, the march began and several hundred people began the walk up Vine Street. A bus followed for procession for those less able to walk, but it was mostly empty; a fitting symbol of the bus boycotts of the Civil Rights Movement.

The march came to a pause at Fountain Square where Fuller once more livened the crowd and introduced the next set of speakers to provide reflection and prayer. Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp, of the Temple Sholom, and Pastor Lesley Jones, of the Truth and Destiny Covenant Ministries, gave messages of peace and unity to the diverse gathering. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and County Commissioner Todd Portune joined ministers and children on the Fountain Square stage, and milling around the crowd was the grinning, former city councilman, Jim Tarbell. Smiles adorned the vast majority of faces in the crowd; a sense of accomplishment in so many different people being together and a sense of joy in recognizing that the commonality outweighed those differences. While the killing of Dr. King is tragic, there was a strong celebration of his life, ideals, and how to keep that energy alive in these times when it is most needed.

Shortly after 11 a.m. the march continued to its stopping point at Music Hall, where the next stage of the program awaited. At this phase of the march Roxanne Qualls and Todd Portune took their place at the front of the march with other community leaders. It was particularly striking to see Portune joining the march; the two crutches that support his weakened frame spoke volumes to his support of the progressive cause.

"Activism makes me feel happy," says Michael O'Brian. Photo: Jason Dean

As the march arrived at Music Hall a few drops of rain began to fall; up until then the predicted bad weather had been gracious enough to leave the crowd alone. Fortunately the next part of the schedule was inside the warmth and comfort of the great opera house. Occupy Cincinnati and some others remained on the steps to hold banners aloft, while the rest of the march proceeded inside to find a seat.

A huge choir of men and women, boys and girls, all dressed in bright colors that painted a palate of diversity, sat on raised bleachers on the stage. Around noon Edith Thrower, President of the Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition, stepped out in front of the choir and up to the stage’s podium to welcome the hundreds of people who now rested their feet after the 13 block walk up the hill. In addition to further reflections on Dr. King, Thrower also took time to pay homage and respect to the late Reverend Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth who died in October of 2011; just like King, Shuttlesworth had devoted his life to social justice and activism, but unlike King, Shuttlesworth lived to be 89-years-old before dying.

Thrower handed the stage over to Fuller and the 90-minute program of beautiful songs from the Ad Hoc Interfaith Youth Choir and the Martin Luther King Chorale, and speakers. Betty Daniels Rosemond; in May of 2011, Rosemond appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show as one of the surviving 189 Freedom Riders, and on this MLK Day she shared her stories of fighting racism in the South.

From start to finish, the day’s schedule was very well organized and well received by those attending. The day was to remember a great person, but overwhelmingly the theme of the speeches kept coming back to the fact that the work is not over; the struggle for social equality continues, but we must not lose hope, or each other.­