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Committee spearheads revival of Federal Way's MLK celebration

City council member Roger Freeman is following up on a campaign promise by attempting to revive Federal Way's long-standing Martin Luther King celebration.

Freeman, who was elected to the city council in 2009, promised Federal Way residents he'd strive to better recognize and celebrate the city's diversity. On Friday, he spearheaded the first meeting to form a new MLK committee and plan the annual January event, which has struggled since former committee chairman Ron Walker stepped down in 2009.

Federal Way's Martin Luther King celebration began 17 years ago. Walker played a major part in organizing the event for the past 10 years. He chaired the MLK committee and had a hand in all aspects of the celebration — from fundraising to selection of on-stage performances.

When Walker stepped down from his position, a leadership vacuum surfaced. Without a wealth of residents willing to help organize the 2010 event, this year's celebration was planned and carried out by the city and Federal Way Diversity Commission. It was a scaled-down version of past events.

Freeman and others at Friday's meeting, with some upfront guidance by Walker, hope to once again hold the celebration by and for Federal Way residents. They are not ready to let go of what the ceremony means for the community.

King's philosophy was not about diversity, Walker said. It was about unified community.

"His whole concept was brotherhood," Walker said.

Federal Way's MLK celebration must showcase the community's unity. A salute to King is essential. But the celebration cannot just be about black heritage or any other ethnicity. It has to be about peace and harmony while relaying King's message of unity, the group agreed.

"I want my kids to understand what's happening with this thing in a very real way," said resident Demetrius Diamond with the Hampton Inn and Suites.

Several ways for potentially reaching this goal were identified. The student essay contest is a mainstay of the celebration. Freeman wishes to see an education element, cultural performance and a dramatic piece, such as a skit.

Diana Noble-Gulliford and Maureen Hathaway, both of the Historical Society of Federal Way, are interested in recognizing early homesteaders. John Conna, who settled in Federal Way in 1883, became the first black political appointee of Washington Territory.

Diamond wants to see local individuals recognized for their efforts to improve Federal Way. Resident Martin Moore floated the idea of creating a website where residents could submit their ideas for what they'd like to see at the 2011 celebration.

Fundraising challenge

One major challenge to the group will be fundraising. The MLK Committee will be fully responsible for identifying financing. In the past, the event has cost $4,000 to $7,000, Walker said. The price includes cash awards for the student essay contest, a sound system, performance groups, lighting and more, Walker said.

Historically, between $1,000 and $1,500 has been funneled from the Diversity Commission to the MLK celebration. That funding is not guaranteed for the 2011 event. The committee must apply for it and be approved through the Diversity Commission.

"The city still strongly believes that this is a community event and that it needs to be planned, funded and implemented largely by the community," city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said in an e-mail. "That's how it's going to be successful."

Get involved

The MLK committee will next meet at 3:30 p.m. June 11 at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S. Anyone interested in becoming involved in the MLK celebration is invited to attend. Call (253) 835-2650.

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