Since the turn of the millennium, Adventist and other young people in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) have observed the birthday of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the second Saturday in January with interpretative dancing, poetic lyrics, stimulating gospel songs and other inspiring expressions.
The 15th annual Federation of Adventist Youth (FAY) event last weekend at the McVety Centre was expanded to include a celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela, the first Black president of a democratic South Africa and the first living non-Canadian to receive honorary citizenship.
The Nobel Prize laureate died last month at age 95.
During the five-hour youth-led celebration, six-year-old Aaliyah Cinello, a fashion model who has appeared in several television commercials, vocalists Michelle Adams and Sandria Ricketts led the way in paying tribute to Mandela who visited Canada on three occasions after he was released from prison in February 1990. They were joined by 17-year-old American-born motivation speaker Justice Iris who attends boarding school in the GTA and aspires to be president of the United States.
In the keynote address, Oakwood University president Dr. Leslie Pollard said Mandela’s life of forgiveness and reconciliation served as a light in a world that’s often cast in the shadow of reprisal, anger and malice.
“When he emerged from a South African prison after 27 years, he could have set that country ablaze with just one word after his unjust imprisonment,” said Pollard who was also the feature speaker at last year’s event. “When he emerged from prison appealing for forgiveness and reconciliation, he laid the foundation for the South Africa that we see today…When Mandela looked at his South Africa, one that has been wracked with discrimination, racism and segregation, he could see that just below the surface of our indifferences that people were the same.”
A Seventh-day Adventist clergyman, Pollard reminded the audience of mainly young people that education of the highest order set Mandela and King apart.
King received a doctorate in systematic theology at age 26 and Mandela was an outstanding lawyer who provided legal advice to prisoners and prison staff while on Robben Island.
“If we remember anything about Mandela and King, let us not simply remember the hardships they endured and the sufferings they embraced,” Pollard said. “Let us also remember that part of the reason that they have a singular position in history is because they achieved the finest of educations. They were able to think critically and for themselves. The key to their impact is that they had an enlightened mind.”
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.
“In every movement that mattered, someone had to stand up,” Pollard said. “Dr. Martin Luther King stood up to an indifferent America and told them they must rise up. There comes a time in every nation when the collective people must rise up and shake off the slumber of indifference…He reminded all of us as well as America that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. He reminded us that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and that true peace is not an absence of tension, but a presence of justice.
“I charge you that when you see injustice, get up and stand up; if you have problems and you face difficulties, never give up; when you see injustice, speak up; when you meet oppression, stand up; when you get knocked down, get up; when you feel your opponents are closing the gap, you need to speed up; when you doubt yourself, you need to show up and when the world needs leadership like Barack Obama, you need to step up. And when they ask you why you do justly, why you walk humbly and why you love mercy, I want you to testify in the words of the gospel song that it’s because I am ‘Going Up Yonder’ to be with my Lord. Up is our history, up is our legacy and up is our destiny.”
The 11th president of Oakwood University, a historically Black Seventh-day Adventist institution of higher learning in Huntsville, Alabama, Pollard offered a presidential scholarship to a senior attending Crawford Adventist Academy in Toronto.
Oakwood University campus queen Willica Wright, a math education senior, and the school gospel choir – Voice of Triumph – participated in the FAY celebration sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada and produced by Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) president Pauline Christian who is a member of Apple Creek Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The theme of this year’s celebration was “Together We Dream”.
Deputy Police Chiefs Mark Saunders and Andre Crawford, Jamaica’s consul general George Ramocan, Ontario Conference of Seventh-day Adventist president Dr. Mansfield Edwards and Member of Provincial Parliament Mitzie Hunter attended the celebration.
Hunter told the young people that it’s important to have a dream.
“At one point, I was where you were and I wrote down my goals and aspirations,” said Hunter. “When I was 19, one of the things I wrote was that I wanted to run for public office. I didn’t know how it was going to happen. I wasn’t involved in any political activity, but it was a hope I felt in my heart and one that was fulfilled in 2013. Go after the things you believe in just like Dr. King and Mr. Mandela.”
Other performers at the event included spoken work artist Nadine Williams, the Children Dance Theatre, Inspired Praise, Judah, YUTE, In His Name, Doing His Command-MLK Litaneers, Rexdale Outreach Choir and Crawford Adventist Academy choir and band.
One of the highlights of the celebrations in the United States to mark King’s birthday is 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.
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.