Leadership and city money prop up Federal Way's Martin Luther King celebration

'The people (of the civil rights movement) were African American, but the concepts transcend any racial group,' said Federal Way City Councilman Roger Freeman, who put together the 2011 MLK celebration.
— image credit: File photo

Federal Way will celebrate diversity and community Jan. 17 at its 18th annual Martin Luther King celebration.

The MLK celebration is a long tradition in Federal Way’s history; it first took place in 1993. After a scaled back version last year due to a lack in leadership and funding, the celebration will return this year with a community gathering — including a few token hallmarks and some firsts.

The event’s theme is “Building Community.” A variety of performances, images of the civil rights movement and excerpts from King’s speeches will be seen and heard at the event, which runs 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday at Decatur High School, 2800 SW 320th St.

The Community Flame will have a presence at the gathering. The high school summit took place prior to the MLK get-together and the Diversity Commission held a student essay contest.

For the first time, the event was not organized by the MLK committee. In another first, the MLK celebration is funded by the city. The point of the gathering — to celebrate King, the civil rights movement, community and diversity — remains.

“The people (of the civil rights movement) were African American, but the concepts transcend any racial group,” said Federal Way City Councilman Roger Freeman, who put together the 2011 MLK celebration.

Highlights of this year’s event will include:

• A keynote speaker from Seattle Central University.

• Live dance and music performances, including acts by Federal Way’s Harmony Kings and NoonDaySun, a Yelm Christian/rock band. “I’m hoping to give the kids something they can relate to,” Freeman said.

• A pledge by city leaders and audience members to commit to doing one thing this year to help build community.

• Possible presentations by the Federal Way Arts Commission or Diversity Commission.

• An address by Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest.

• Recognition of a public advocate.

Former MLK committee chairman Ron Walker, who acted as an advisor to Freeman, said he is satisfied with how 2011’s celebration came together.

“I’m looking forward to it and I’m hoping the turnout is good,” Walker said.

When Walker organized the event, he’d always put it together in a way that he felt Dr. King could be proud of, he said. He’d ask himself: “Would this be something he would sit in the audience and support and be happy to see?”


Organizing the 2011 MLK celebration was not easy. Leadership lagged after Walker left his position as the MLK committee chairman following 2009’s celebration; Walker held the position for 10 years. Later that same year, Federal Way resident Louise Wessel attempted to round up volunteers to put on the event, with little avail.

Last year’s event comprised of a student essay contest and a “Day of Caring” food and blanket drive. No community gathering took place.

“Once Ron left, it did create a void,” Freeman said. “What was needed here was someone to announce a vision.”


It took vision and city funding to make the 2011 celebration a reality. This marks the first year the city has footed the MLK celebration’s bill. The city set aside $5,000 this year and another $5,000 for next year’s event. Freeman anticipates using roughly $3,500 of the allotment this time around.

In the past, the Diversity Commission donated $1,500 to the celebration. No other city funding was used. Additional money was solicited by the MLK committee from businesses and individuals. Donations dipped when the economy worsened.

Freeman personally requested the 2011-2012 MLK celebration money when he learned he could not solicit funding as had been done in the past. He felt the event could decline or cease to exist if reliable funding was not identified, he said. Walker said he thinks the city funded the celebration when it realized, after last year’s scaled down event, that it was something important to the community and could not afford to be lost.

“When it was gone, people really missed it,” Walker said. “I think the city saw that.”

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