The birthday celebration of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a time to reflect on the progress communities and countries have made in relation to his vision for harmony and social justice.
While King’s dream was aimed mainly at creating an inclusive and racially just society, he also advocated for personal and collective advancement.
That is something not lost on Toronto Police Service deputy chief, Peter Sloly, who used it as a call to action at last Saturday’s Federation of Adventist Youth’s 13th annual celebration to mark Dr. King’s birthday.
“While dreams are one thing, there is a fierce urgency right now for us to accomplish certain things in order to advance ourselves individually and collectively,” he said. “We need to have a plan and commitment in addition to an ability to implement that plan.”
Sloly laid out his plan with five elements he says are necessary for it to work.
“At the individual level, public education that will expand consciousness and enable individuals to acquire credentials to be successful in life and professional maturation to advance yourself and your community are integral to that plan,” he said. “At the collective level, we need to have a political and financial foundation and our people need to develop and direct policy. There was a time when, if I asked the question, ‘Is the police, politicians, public educators, private sector owners and the public media part of the frustration of the Black community?’ the answer would be yes.
“And yet, today, the group of individuals up on this stage represents the very highest levels of each of those institutions. We are no longer the victims of those institutions. In fact, many of us are running, influencing, directing and driving those institutions. So stop being part of the frustration and be part of the solution.”
Sloly joined former Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE) president and York Regional Police Service Inspector Chris Bullen, Jamaica’s consul general, George Ramocan, Pastor John Scott, banking executive, Mark Beckles, G98.7 founding president and chief executive officer, Fitzroy Gordon, Dr. Anthony Sterling, provincial minister, Margarett Best and Senator Don Meredith in bringing greetings at the annual celebration that features interpretative dance, poetic lyrics, dramatic expressions, reflections, instrumentals and other special presentations.
Meredith read a message sent by federal Citizenship, Immigration & Multiculturalism Minister, Jason Kenney, while Best delivered a message from Ontario’s Premier Dalton McGuinty.
“Dr. King’s unwavering courage demonstrated the enormous power in diversity,” said McGuinty. “In his enduring commitment to equality and freedom, he inspired, and continues to inspire, people around the world to advocate for human rights, justice and liberty for all…
“By paying tribute to Dr. King, you are helping to build a society where all Ontarians can reach their potential and realize their dreams.”
A 30-foot tall memorial of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was unveiled last October on Washington’s National Mall. It’s the first memorial on the Mall not dedicated to a war, a president or White male. The unveiling took place 15 years after a Congressional Joint Resolution to establish a memorial in Washington D.C. to recognize King.
“The memorial is a reminder of an exemplary life, the power of justice and certainly a symbol of what a dream can do and what dreams can become,” Best added.
Motivational speaker, author and hip-hop pastor, Eric Thomas, was the keynote speaker.
Raised by a single mother in Detroit, he dropped out of school at age 16 and lived on the street for a year before being rescued by a pastor.
“He basically recruited me to join his church where I was embraced by the elders – mainly women – who made me accountable for my time and actions,” recalled the married father of two children who met his dad for the first time a few years ago. “They helped me complete my General Education Diploma (GED) and they wrote recommendation letters for me to enter university.”
Thomas, who holds an undergraduate and Master’s degree, is pursuing his PhD in Education Administration at Michigan State University.
This year’s performers included poetic lyricists Venessa Nyarkoh, Nevahrud, Al St. Louis and Nadine Williams; interpretative dancer Miranda Singh and the Toronto Children Concert and Rexdale Outreach choirs.
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.
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.
By Ron Fanfair