From start to finish, the 32nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration had folks moving.
The celebration began at 10:30 a.m. when approximately 60 Elyria residents gathered to march the seven blocks from Ely Square to Elyria High School. Participants ranged from 4-feet-tall youngsters to 80 years old and marched arm-in-arm through fresh snow and temperatures in the teens, all while keeping a tune: the Civil Rights-era protest anthem “We Shall Overcome.”
In addition to scarves, hats and “an extra pair of thermal underwear” as one marcher revealed, participants wore smiles.
“With so much negativity going on, it’s great to come together as a community and celebrate,” said first-time marcher and retired educator Doug Grayson. “That’s what Doctor King was all about.”
The celebration continued at Elyria High School’s Performing Arts Center, where marchers were greeted by their warmer friends and family. As guests settled into the Performing Arts Center’s auditorium for an afternoon of speeches, performances and awards, LaTaunya V. Conley invited those gathered to “shake off some cold.” She played Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” asking that guests “get into it” and that the event’s technical support “turn it up.”
Conley, who serves as the chairwoman of the 32nd-annual Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service program, informed guests that this year’s community celebration would be a little different from other years.
“Usually we have more of a commemoration, but this year it’s going to more celebratory,” she said. That’s because this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day coincided with what would be Dr. King’s 89th birthday.
Guests were treated to cupcakes with pictures of Martin Luther King Jr.’s face donated by D’s Sweets. The Performing Arts Center also featured hundreds of birthday cards written by Elyria High School students.
“As you entered the lobby of the Performing Arts Center today you probably noticed: It’s ready for a party,” Elyria Schools Superintendent Thomas Jama said. “We’re here to celebrate.”
Pastor Mark H. Taylor introduced the celebration’s keynote speaker, the Rev. Mark L. Johnson, a graduate of Elyria High School and pastor of Liberty Hill Baptist Church in Cleveland. Taylor likened Johnson to King, citing that both men were pastors, husbands, fathers of four, and, as the afternoon would show, great orators.
Just three minutes into his address, Johnson had the audience up and out of their seats, responding to his words in the call-and-response style of the gospel church. His speech touched on religion, love, and the progress that has been made toward racial equality since Martin Luther King Jr.’s time.
However, nearly five decades after King’s death and “given the present political context,” Johnson said that there is still work to be done.
“The only way we’re going to reach where we’re trying to reach is through love,” he concluded.
As guests rose out of their seats to leave, “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang came over the loudspeaker, convincing them to stay a moment and dance with one another instead.
Contact Lucas Fortney at 329-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.