On what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 89th birthday on Monday, community leaders challenged Federal Way residents to live out the civil rights leader’s legacy in their own lives.
Speakers and performers took the stage of the Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center on Monday to celebrate King. The community event, titled “Every Vision Needs a Voice,” was presented by the city’s Diversity Commission in partnership with the Federal Way High School Black Student Union and Federal Way Public Schools.
Speeches by Mayor Jim Ferrell, City Councilman Jesse Johnson, Erin Jones and Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Tammy Campbell were interspersed with performances by Federal Way High School’s Latino Club, United Dance and Pacific Islanders Club.
Campbell, who was the first speaker, spoke about the importance of finding a voice to the crowd of about 350 that attended the event.
“As I think about the mood across our country today, the state of our country and the level of connectedness, equity, opportunity and sense of justice for all human beings today, I have to tell you I am hopeful, but I am also disappointed. I believe we are at a point where we must decide if we are serious about living out our ideal of democracy, specifically the ideals of liberty, equality opportunity, access, justice.”
Campbell recounted the racism that led up to segregation in the 1960s and warned the community not to allow that to happen again.
“It boils down to this: What will the good people of this community, this country, this state, this county do in the face of bad actions that are aimed to minimize, diminish and marginalize others?” Campbell said. “What thoughts and beliefs do you hold about other people, especially people you don’t interact with very often? Do you see their humanity, their right to life, their liberty, their pursuit of happiness? Do you help to further that?
“To the good people, I say what do you do when you hear comments that open the window to racist beliefs and actions? Do you nod, laugh, agree or remain silent? If you said yes to any of the above, you have enabled injustice to prevail.”
Campbell closed by challenging those in attendance to be more like King.
“The question is, will each of us take the baton and make a stand?” she said. “If we are to live out his dream, the good people, you must not be silent. You will have to think, speak and act bravely. Our very future depends on it.”
Lessons for youth
Jones, who ran in 2016 for state superintendent of public instruction and has worked in various roles in education, including as the director of equity and achievement for the Federal Way School District, outlined three lessons, aimed at youth, that King embodied.
The first lesson is to take advantage of educational opportunities as King did.
“Dr. King had graduated high school by 14 and was starting college at 15,” Jones said.
Sadly, she said, many youth today don’t embrace the opportunities they have.
“I hear far too many kids in the United States say this: ‘I have to go to school. Man, I gotta go to school.’ I say to you get to go to school. You get to go to school for free,” Jones said. “You have a dream. Use the school system to make your dream a reality, and don’t just do time.”
The second lesson to learn from King is to say yes to opportunities.
“There are opportunities that present to you every day and you say ‘I am not good enough; I am not enough,’” Jones said. “And I would say to you, you’re not, but step into it because stepping into that challenging space is what will stretch you to become the best version of yourself and say yes. Dr. King said yes to being the face of the civil rights movement before he even understood what the civil rights movement was.”
The third lesson, Jones said, is to choose love in the face of hate.
“Dr. King was the king of choosing love and mercy and grace in the face of hate and judgment,” Jones said. “So I dare you to choose love and grace and mercy.”
She said this is especially true on social media.
“I would dare you young people to use your thumbs for good and not evil,” she said. “Sometimes the courageous thing is not to use your thumbs at all. Sometimes the courageous thing is when you see someone else destroying the character of someone you know, to stand up and use your voice.”
Vision of justice
King’s desire for justice for all was a recurring topic among the speakers.
“Today I am calling for a far more radical change in our collective, conscious commitment to hope and justice in our communities and to remember that justice is not a spectator sport,” said Johnson, who was elected to the City Council in November.
“You cannot simply stand on the sidelines, but you must be willing to take a stand and speak out. I am calling for a radical grip on love toward all colors, creeds, financial situations, sexual orientation and countries of origin. I am calling for a rebellion against apathy, indifference and injustice. I am calling for us to move toward empathy where we put people in equity and safety and justice first, because we are indeed one family – the human family.”
Mayor Ferrell spoke of King’s courage.
“Dr. King was, at the same time, the epitome of courage in the face of adversity, condemning in his letter from a Birmingham jail, those who have been more cautious than courageous while recognizing the courage of those who are nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willing to go jail for conscience’ sake,” Ferrell said. “Indeed, he himself was one of those courageous people, though he was too modest to say so himself.”
It is important not to let King’s legacy die, Ferrell said.
“It is really up to all of us to carry on his great mission to be continued voices for his vision,” he said.
Rep. Roger Freeman Award
At the end of the celebration, Federal Way City Councilman Martin Moore presented Decatur High School junior Aliyah Baruso with the Rep. Roger Freeman Award.
The award, named in honor of the late 30th District representative, recognizes a high school junior or senior from Federal Way who exemplifies justice, diversity, compassion and integrity.
The first award was presented at last year’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
Baruso is a deserving recipient of the award, Moore said.
“She is compassionate,” Moore said. “She lives her life with integrity and she, in reading her application, she has fought for justice in her own ways.”
Baruso said she met Freeman when her father, Greg, ran for state representative.
“Rep. Freeman made such a difference in our community, and I hope all of us can strive to do the same.”
Martin Luther King Jr. quotes
Speakers at the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Monday took words of wisdom directly from the civil rights leader. Here are a few that were shared:
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – shared by Tammy Campbell and Jesse Johnson
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop. … I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.” – shared by Mayor Jim Ferrell
“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand. Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.” – shared by Erin Jones