'Honor his legacy': Community to celebrate MLK Day with music, fundraisers, discussions, marches

Jan. 15—TRAVERSE CITY — Each year, the third Monday of January is meant to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who gave his life to promote equality whose lessons transcend time.

"He made it possible for people of color to be able to do what we do today, and I don't think that what he did stops with his death," said Tyasha Harrison, Northern Michigan E3 council member. "(MLK and Malcolm X's) legacies, and what they did, were really jumping-off points for us to do even more in the future."

In Traverse City, celebrations on and around MLK Day include marches, fundraisers, music performances and more.

Northern Michigan E3, the local anti-racism task force, has set up "storywalks" around the region, which feature a series of signs that depict books about King's life and work, and hosted a walk and celebration in honor of King on Saturday. The anti-racism task force also will be hosting a virtual reflection and celebration event for King on Sunday, presented by Olympian Alisha Glass Childress, who grew up in Leland.

In the past few years, political and racial tensions have been on the rise and some of those tensions in the U.S. have been expressed by parents claiming that Critical Race Theory, a graduate-level theory that examines systemic racism and the intersection of race and law, is being taught in K-12 schools. In other situations, Black, Indigenous and People Of Color (BIPOC) have been targeted and books by Black authors have been banned in libraries across the country.

"Book banning, and banning certain language and history doesn't service anybody," Harrison said. "It doesn't help our non-BIPOC brothers and sisters to learn of the history and to hopefully never repeat it, but it also doesn't help the future BIPOC kiddos that need to learn and know where they've come from."

These recent events across the U.S. mean that celebrations for King and his legacy are even more relevant in this community, Harrison said.

Proceeds from the Saturday celebration will go to the "I Have A Dream Scholarship Fund" and Traverse City Area Public Schools, for their libraries, she said.

At Northwestern Michigan College, the faculty's "Embrace the Dream" programming is planned through the end of January and into February to celebrate King as well as the beginning of Black History Month. That includes free film showings and new exhibits at The Dennos Museum that feature BIPOC artists and explore the inequalities Black communities face.

A central focus of the "Embrace the Dream" programming is reflecting on the past while thinking about the possibilities that the future presents, said Marcus Bennett, NMC's special assistant to the president for diversity, equity and inclusion and associate dean of campus and residence life.

It's also important that people remember to carry on King's teachings and remember his vision all year, not just on Jan. 16, for the betterment of society, Bennett said.

"Even though we're celebrating 'Embrace the Dream,' and Martin Luther King for this month and a half, it's just not going to stop there," Bennett said. "We're going to continue to carry on his legacy throughout the rest of the year, throughout the things that we do within that spirit."

Another part of NMC's commemoration of King is a new faculty requirement to complete a few hours of community service in January. The service work replaces a professional development conference.

"King was devoted, not just in words and thoughts, which are also important, but in acts as well," said Brandon Everest, a sociology instructor at NMC, who was a part of developing the "Embrace the Dream" programming. "At the heart of his message, from the most pressing and critical to the most harmonious, was a message of service and that's really the central theme of what we're doing."

The service projects include several volunteer opportunities with the United Way of Northwest Michigan, as well as with local schools and libraries.

On Monday, admission to the Dennos Museum Center will be free and the NMC Canticum Novum choral group will perform at a free concert titled "Remembering MLK," which has been put on by Building Bridges with Music, a local nonprofit organization, since 2003.

In addition to NMC's choral group, the concert also will feature singers Joan Belgrave, a nationally acclaimed jazz and soul artist; Mark Scott, the former lead singer of the Motown group The Miracles; Joel Fluent Greene, a poet and spoken word artist; and Lisa McCall's dance group, which does a combination of African, Caribbean and Cuban dance.

Linda Yohn, a Detroit-based radio host, also will be there as the master of ceremonies, and she will discuss the history of King's connection to Motown.

"Our goal in presenting the Martin Luther King event every year is to honor his legacy, point out the relevance of his teachings in today's society and just create more awareness about the work we have to do to move toward his dream," said Jeff Haas, founder of Building Bridges with Music.

The Great Lakes Children's Museum also will be offering programming in honor of King on Monday. It's one of the museum's yearly programs, said Anne Drake, the museum educator.

The programming will include a story time with "The Peace Book" by Todd Parr, as well as games and activities that are meant to teach kids about peace, with King's lessons about equality and some of his famous quotes incorporated throughout.

For young kids, getting those kinds of messages across usually takes hands-on activities and, even then, the focus is on setting a foundation so that they can have an easier time understanding those more complex topics in the future, Drake said.

In light of current events, like book bans, Drake said that it's vital to focus on the positive changes that King brought about when he was alive and build upon them.

"It's very important to just grab on to those and keep promoting those and keep trying to get those across to the kids and families and the whole community," Drake said.

And, while most schools will be out of session on MLK Day, students at Northwest Education Services' Life Skills Center will be in class.

The Life Skills Center serves students between the ages of 16 and 26 who are disabled. Staff there focus on developing social-emotional skills and overcoming the barriers presented to people with disabilities in society, said Amy Moore, a social worker at the program.

On Monday, students at the Life Skills Center are celebrating MLK Day with a presentation from Disability Network staff about how King's work relates to people with disabilities, a short "inclusion walk" on the TART Trail and a student-led performance of "Stand By Me."

This yearly celebration of King's life and legacy is, among many things, one way to keep tabs on the progress we have made as a country while thinking toward the future work that can be done to achieve equality for all people, Moore said.

"To me, the significance is as a celebration of what he stood for, and a reminder that there still is so much work to be done in terms of really making sure that everyone has equal opportunities, everyone has the ability to make their own choices," Moore said. "And remembering really, that we all are entitled to our own dreams and desires."