MLK Jr. Day celebration is still growing in 16th year

For the past 10 years, I have had the privilege of spearheading our city’s 16-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Community Celebration. This event has grown dramatically during this time.

In 2000, the Community Flame of Federal Way was introduced, each one of it’s candle-lit flames representing five different aspects of our community — Federal Way as a great place to live, learn, work, worship and to play. As of this coming celebration Jan. 14-17, 50 separate people from our city will have come together to light its heartfelt flame.

In 2004, we introduced the “Common Thread of Federal Way.” In all, more than 300 customized cards allowing community members to express their “Dream” for our city have been added to its 50-foot length. It is an impressive sight.

Over the years, a number of performing groups, including school choirs, church choirs and community choirs have presented their skill and passion at the MLK Celebration. Other performers included a symphony, powerful drummers from Africa, Japan, Korea and the United States, dancers representing the Philippines, Spain, Ireland, Mexico, Africa, Greece, Japan and Korea and also there have been musical groups representing Spain, Africa and America. We have had keynote speakers from Uganda and Cameroon, King county executives Gary Locke and Ron Sims have both graced our stage and we have even seen Abraham Lincoln and Dr. King recreated in commanding dramatic form.

A community service project has always strengthened the MLK Day celebration during my tenure. Most of the years it consisted of a food drive at the celebration when attendees would bring nonperishable food. For several years we were able to partner with Diane Gallagos and Habitat for Humanity taking the annual event to new heights. Last year, under the direction of Diversity Commissioner John Hwang, a city-wide food drive gathered over 4,200 pounds of food that was donated to the Multi-Service Center’s Food Bank. This year, under the auspices of Commissioner Greg Baruso we hope to do even better.

Four years ago we added the “MLK High School Leadership Summit” to the week’s festivities. Counting this year, over 240 young people from diverse backgrounds have attended this summit to strengthen youth development in Federal Way. The concept for the MLK Senior High Summit flows out of this thesis statement, a quote by Dr. Maria Robledo Montecel. “The future of our young people, our state and our nation is, after all, in our many, diverse, collective and very capable hands.” As a partnership with Federal Way Public Schools, the Summit is making strides on behalf of our youth.

So now, after 10 years as chair of the celebration, I have a clearer understanding of Dr. King and the message he was bringing to America so many years ago … and I really don’t think it was about “Diversity” as we understand it.

When you read his writings and his letters, when you listen to his speeches and sermons, when you take it all in and allow Dr. King to actually speak to your heart, it is clear that he was about something much deeper. He was about something much more powerful and meaningful. Dr. King’s dream was about brotherhood, brotherhood amongst people, brotherhood amongst folks like you and me who look differently, talk differently, who have different experiences, desires and goals, yet people who share the common bond of humanity.

As we begin this New Year, and even soon, a new chapter in American history, let us embrace our families, our friends, our community and our nation with renewed strength and resolve to honor through our lives those who have sacrificed and gone before us, people who have made great strides to give us this wonderful place we call America.

Ron Walker is the chairman of the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Committee

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