By RON FANFAIR
Much has changed since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated just over four decades ago.
But what has not changed is his dream of racial equality that ultimately cost him his life, Toronto Police Service Board member and media consultant Hamlin Grange said in his keynote address at the Federation of Adventist Youth’s 11th annual celebration to mark King’s birthday.
“Dr. King saw the world where people would be judged not by the colour of their skin, but by their attributes, abilities and character,” he said. “The challenge for us is to be better than we are and even better than we think we can be.
“His dream was audacious, inspiring and inclusive and it lives on in many of us. I believe that King believed that we can overcome, especially in this city where we say diversity is our strength. We can make our political system more inclusive, our criminal justice system fairer, our education system more relevant to young people and we can try harder to be better than we think we can be.”
One of the highlights of the celebrations in the United States to mark King’s birthday was the Martin Luther King Day of Service that was started by former Pennsylvania Senator Harris Wofford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, who co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act.
The federal legislation challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen volunteer service in King’s honour. The legislation was signed into law by former president Bill Clinton on August 23, 1994. Since 1996, the annual Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service has been the largest event in the U.S. honouring the former Civil Rights leader.
Grange, who graduated from the University of Colorado and co-founded the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and the Black Business and Professional Association which administers the Harry Jerome awards and national scholarship program, encouraged young Canadians to volunteer and make King proud.
“Volunteering builds character, it helps you to love and respect your neighbour and yourself and it makes you a better person,” he said.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929, King inspired, encouraged and empowered people from diverse backgrounds, races, religions and creeds to achieve greater racial equality, opportunities and justice. He also challenged them to use peaceful and non-violent methods to focus on and attain civil rights.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while in Memphis to support sanitary workers and their boycott against companies with unfair hiring practices.
The U.S. national holiday commemorating King’s birthday was enacted in 1993.
“Dr. King stood for so many things, including humanity,” said Grade Eight student, Justice Betty.
The 12-year-old and her younger sister Nia donated the US$800 Christmas present they received from their grandmother to the Pierspective Entraide Humanitaire, a local Haitian charitable organization spearheaded by honorary consul general Dr. Eric Pierre, in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake.
“I felt helpless as I watched bodies in the streets and people wandering about helplessly,” said Betty. “We had planned to use the money for our March break, but we couldn’t after seeing the suffering in Haiti.”
The annual Martin Luther King celebration, that attracts mainly young people, featured interpretative dance, spoken word, poetic lyrics, dramatic expressions, reflections, instrumentals and other special presentations.
This year’s performers included trumpeter Dave Brown, dancer Miranda Singh, vocalists Cora Reid and Naomi Striemer, Norwill Simmonds, Jesly Okuefuna, Young Saintz, The Toronto Children’s Concert Choir, the Canadian Children Dance Theatre, Sharon Riley and Faith Chorale, Rexdale Outreach Choir, Marlon Brown and F2W, the DHL-MLK Litaneers, Hands of Blessing and the Malton Outreach Choir.