LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 17, 2020) — The world lost civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. more than five decades ago; two full generations have no living memory of him. Those who were schoolchildren when King marched the streets of America and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 are retired now. Yet this gentle man, who forced many to look hard at their beliefs and prejudices, made such an impact on the world and America’s future that even the grandchildren of the generation that actually walked with Rev. King recognize his face. Today’s children know what King stood for then and still represents today.
A child of the Deep South, born as the Great Depression swept the world into poverty and deprivation, King grew to become the world’s most energetic spokesperson and recognizable leader of the fledgling Civil Rights Movement. From the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, to his March on Washington in 1963, until his assassination in 1968, King’s major weapons against racism and poverty, ignorance and violence were his eloquent words of unity and his earnest prayers for peace, encapsulated in his world-renowned “I Have a Dream” speech.
In remembrance and celebration of King's impact on civil rights, the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration will take place in downtown Lexington Monday, Jan. 20, with the Freedom March, followed by the commemorative holiday program.
“In celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr., we’re celebrating the ideal that is represented by his life. It still reminds us that we can do better,” said Chester Grundy, retired University of Kentucky administrator and co-chair of the MLK Holiday Planning Committee,
The Rev. Delman Coates, the nationally known progressive minister of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland, will serve as guest speaker at the commemorative program. The previously scheduled speaker, Raphael Warnock, had to cancel last week.
“Dr. King’s movement for nonviolent resistance was informed by a moral vision of peace, justice, and inclusion,” Coates said. “The fight for economic justice is the unfinished work of Dr. King and is just as relevant today as it was 52 years ago.
“We still struggle to develop a sustainable economy that works for the masses of the American people, and the best way to remember him is to build broad-based support from robust policies that would end involuntary unemployment; provide universal, single-payer health care; protect the environment; abolish student loan debt; promote racial cooperation; and prevent senseless war.”
Co-sponsored by the University of Kentucky, the Lexington-Fayette County Urban County Government and other community sponsors, the King Holiday Celebration begins with the Freedom March at 10 a.m. Monday. Participants in the march will begin lining up at 9 a.m. inside the corridor of downtown Lexington Convention Center's Heritage Hall on West Main Street.
Freedom March coordinator and University of Kentucky Associate Vice President for Institutional Equity Terry Allen said, “We’ve taken a lot of steps forward, but we’ve still got a lot of steps to take. I’m encouraged by the folks that are involved with the program, that attend the program, and attend the march; we’re all taking these steps together. This celebration is a symbol of unity. It’s a symbol of hope.”
At 11 a.m., marchers and others will gather in Heritage Hall for the commemorative program featuring Rev. Coates. Singer/composer Donnie will end the program in the tradition of his cousin, Marvin Gaye, with his politically oriented, consciousness-raising version of modern soul music.
Coates has served as senior pastor of Maryland’s Mt. Ennon Baptist Church for 16 years, creating and reinforcing his church’s progressive positions on media advocacy, social justice and health care reform. A nationally recognized human rights leader, Coates is the president of Black Church Center for Justice and Equality, a national policy board dedicated to supporting clergy, congregations and communities in building sustainable, justice-minded ministries. He founded the New Abolitionism Campaign, an economic justice initiative to solve some of America’s greatest social and economic challenges around issues of financial solvency and wealth-building.
Coates graduated from Morehouse College with a bachelor’s degree in religion in 1995, the Harvard School of Divinity with a master of divinity degree in 1998, and Columbia University with a master of philosophy in religion in 2002 and a doctorate in the New Testament and early Christianity in 2006.
He is a board member of the Parents Television Council and the National Action Network, and a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Morehouse College Board of Preachers and the NAACP. In 2012, The Root named Coates one of their 100 African American Achievers and Influencers. The American Civil Liberties Union honored him in 2013 for his commitment to advancing civil rights and liberties for all. In the same year, Ebony magazine selected him as one of their Power 100.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.