Toledoans pay tribute to MLK Jr. at memorial dedicationWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than four decades after his death, Martin Luther King Jr. is still a larger-than-life symbol of hope, freedom and change in the minds of millions of Americans.
Thirty-five Toledo area residents took a weekend bus trip to Washington, D.C., joining tens of thousands of others who flocked to the capital Oct. 16 to honor that legacy and witness the dedication ceremony for the recently unveiled four-acre, $120 million Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Among the dozens of speakers and performers were President Barack Obama, King’s children, Rev. Al Sharpton, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Tommy Hilfiger, poet Nikki Giovanni, actress Cicely Tyson and many others.
The memorial, the first on the National Mall to honor a black leader, features a granite statue of King standing with his arms folded, emerging from a “Stone of Hope” and gazing across the tidal basin toward the Jefferson Memorial. A thin entrance path through a granite “Mountain of Despair” represents the struggles King faced in the pursuit of social equality and peace. The memorial also features two inscription walls filled with King quotes.
“It’s honoring a historic person,” said trip member Lisa Griffin, who called the experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “He made the way for colored people to do a whole lot of things.”
“He had a dream that changed our lives,” her daughter Marlydia King added.
It was the first visit for both to Washington, D.C.
Trip organizer Michael Huggins said the day was moving, exciting and uplifting.
“I think everybody enjoyed it. I can’t wait to take it back to Toledo and share it,” Huggins said. “I think the youth that went down fulfilled the legacy they had heard on King. I could see it on their faces. They were really excited. I think we all got what we were looking for.”
Ben Williams, a longtime local coach and educator and executive director of Ben E. Williams Youth Services Inc., was also instrumental in organizing the trip.
His daughter, Leah Williams, who rode the bus to Washington, D.C., said her father shares King’s passion for equal rights.
“It was important to him that the accomplishments of Dr. King be recognized and that there be people, especially young people, from our community there,” Williams said.
Former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner addressed the group before the bus departed, telling riders they were on their way to celebrate one of the most respected individuals ever to walk and talk on this earth.
University of Toledo freshman Allaina Peraza, a history buff who plans to major in African-American Studies, said it meant a lot to her to be there for the dedication.
“I have freedoms that, when my grandmother came up from Mississippi, I wouldn’t have had,” said the 18-year-old Peraza, who recently register to vote for the first time. “It’s just a symbol of freedom. I was looking forward to seeing it this whole week.”
Verna Anthony of Toledo treated herself to the trip as a 70th birthday present.
“I have been waiting on this and waiting on this and waiting on this,” Anthony said. “1968 until now has been a long time, but we finally got here. Eventually I knew it was going to get here; I was just hoping I’d be here to see it. I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”
Anthony said the best part was seeing people of so many different backgrounds celebrating harmoniously.
“This is like the United Nations here,” she said. “This is just a prelude to equal opportunities for everybody. It’s not as good as no color to be seen, but it’s getting there. It’s just so beautiful.”
Eight-year-old Laraya Parker made the trip with her father Larry Parker Jr., uncle Paul Parker and grandmother Mildred Parker, who said the trip was an opportunity to witness history and be part of the future.
“It was great,” Laraya said.
Her father described King as a monumental and influential leader.
“Like the speakers said, this has been a long time coming, but we’ve still got a long ways to go,” Larry said. “A lot of the speakers were comparing today to then. They didn’t have GPS to get here then, but people showed up by the thousands. It shows how great a leader he was.”
Toledoan Josh Fowler said watching the dedication made him proud and he hopes sentiments expressed during the ceremony will be carried out upon everyone’s returns home.
“I think the trip proves people can unite for a common purpose and a common cause, but it’s still vital to sustain that unity,” Fowler said. “Oftentimes trips are over and we just wait on the next trip. I believe it’s time to step up to the plate and exude the characteristics of this trip and what it represented, to be active in the community and raise social awareness.”
Others with Toledo connections were also at the event.
Toledo native Erika Manuel came to Washington, D.C., with a group of students from Tennessee State University in Nashville, where she is a senior.
“Not a lot of people get memorials in their names, especially African Americans,” said Manuel, a Woodward High School graduate. “I can’t even imagine living in a time when people say I’m not good enough because I’m black or a female. I challenge things like that. I don’t know if I would have been as peaceful as Dr. King, so I admire him for that.”
Kristin McMillan was at the ceremony with a group from Morgan State University in Baltimore. The Cincinnati native attended UT for two years before transferring.
“Martin Luther King means freedom to me,” said McMillian, who wanted to come so she can one day tell her children she was at the historic event. “He showed the way.”
The dedication was originally scheduled for Aug. 28, the anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but was postponed due to Tropical Storm Irene.
For more information, visit www.mlkmemorial.org.