When I first started my event planning business over a quarter of a century ago, one of my favorite clients was working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). I was originally hired by Genethia Hudley Hayes who was the executive director at the time. She wanted me to come in and help with what was known as “King Week.” Over the course of a week we had different activities ranging from the Rosa Parks Gospel Concert, to an Art & Essay Contest sponsored by the DWP, an inter-faith breakfast co-sponsored with the National Conference of Christians & Jews (NCCJ) and culminating with a big dinner with hundreds of attendees. At one time this was the biggest non-profit dinner in the African American Community in Los Angeles.
SCLC was one of my longest clients. I had the privilege of working with several executive directors over the span of ten plus years. Over the years I met many people across the Southland and many are still in my life today. We had a commitment to keep Dr. King’s dream alive and to better our community. We also wanted to make sure that future generations would not forget what previous generations had fought and died for to ensure their freedom and equality. I believe I come from the generation (I was born in 1961) that sits between those who sacrificed on the front lines and those who are recipients of those struggles, but may not fully understand the struggle.
Back in the day, King Week was an exciting time when the community, celebrities and the corporate world all came together to honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to reflect on how far we had come. Although the celebration spanned just a little over a week, it would take months to plan and prepare for it to be meaningful and successful. I really enjoyed seeing how people came alive as they rolled up their sleeves to be involved and to make sure the community did not forget the purpose of what this celebration meant and how important it was for us to keep his memory and work alive for the generations to come.
Dr. King was assassinated in 1968; over fifty years ago. Former Congressman John Conyers, an African American Democrat from Michigan, spearheaded the movement to establish MLK Day shortly after Dr. King’s death. It would take over fifteen years with much fighting on the front lines, including Coretta Scott King and Stevie Wonder petitioning and working hard to not give up on creating the holiday. It became law in 1983 under President Ronald Reagan, but was not observed until 1986 and it was not until the year 2000 that all fifty states recognized King’s birthday as a government holiday. This is a perfect example of the importance of not giving up. As my grandmother would remind me, we can’t get weary in well doing.
Many of our Civil Rights and Social Justice Organizations are falling by the wayside and although it may appear that we’ve come a long way regarding equal rights, sadly we still have a long way to go. It almost feels like we’ve taken a few steps back with the current political climate. It is going to be up to each one of us to do our part to keep Dr. King’s dream alive for our children and our children’s children to have the hope of a better future. Now is not the time to sit down or take a back seat. We must be like Ms. Rosa Parks who took a seat up front where she belonged to make a statement that made history.
Healing Without Hate: It’s a choice. It’s a lifestyle. Pass it on!