MLK celebration at UT focuses on eliminating hate

January 17, 2017
In The News

“Uncle Martin,” as Donzaleigh Abernathy called the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., pushed her to overcome her fear, just like he did the nation’s.

Fear doesn’t just hold an individual back from being their true self, it drives people apart. Those that don’t know each other fear each other.

These were themes Ms. Abernathy tried to convey to a crowd in Toledo Monday on the holiday to remember the slain civil rights leader.

“Now, more than ever, America, we must sit down at the table together,” she said.

Ms. Abernathy is the daughter of the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, one of the most prominent leaders of the civil rights movement and the Rev. King’s best friend. During her keynote speech at the University of Toledo, she spoke about her memories of that time, and how it looked through her eyes.

“I lived it. I was there. I know. I saw,” she said.

About 1,800 people attended the 16th annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Unity Celebration at Savage Arena, according to Deb Driscoll, director of special events for the University of Toledo Foundation.

The event’s theme was “Reconciliation through Service: Education, Social Justice, and Religion,” and area universities have partnered with the United Way of Greater Toledo this month to conduct service projects throughout the community.

During her speech, images of her father, Mr. King, and iconic moments of the civil rights movement played on the big screen above her, as Ms. Abernathy recounted struggles against oppression, like the push to allow black Americans the right to access public beaches, or when her family’s house was bombed by the KKK.

Despite the violent reaction to protests across the country, and despite a divisive climate in America now, Ms. Abernathy said the spirit of the civil rights movement included the elimination of hate, even while resisting violent oppressors.

“That is what was needed then, and what’s needed now. Forgiveness,” she said.

Pete Gerken, president of the Lucas County Commissioners, said that, in light of the upcoming transfer of political power nationally, now should not just be a time of celebration, but also a time to start a defense. He referenced Mr. King’s statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” and said that arc doesn’t bend on its own, but only through the constant struggle for justice.

“This is not a time to sit down,” he said. “This is a time to stand up.”

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson’s chief of staff Mark Sobczak, and University of Toledo President Sharon Gaber spoke. There was a salute to fallen heroes, and recognition of recipients of both MLK Scholarships and African-American Leadership Council of United Way Scholarship Awards.

There were musical performances by the Scott High School marching band, the University of Toledo gospel choir, and from Ramona Collins and the JAMM Band.

Among the loudest round of applause was reserved for a spoken word and dance performance written and choreographed by Toledo School for the Arts students titled “Reconciliation.”

The performance included an array of racist and bigoted statements, from the overt to the subtle, from abject racism to microaggressions, which students face, and a unified voice from them that people are better than that.

Ms. Abernathy cited her roots in northwest Ohio, as a former roommate was from Toledo, and her husband is a Lima native and graduate of Bowling Green State University.

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