City celebrates Martin Luther King day

Although students will face the grind of classes as usual today, many Charlottesville and University community members will commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. nonetheless.

The city honored the Civil Rights leader's legacy during a community celebration at the Charlottesville Performing Arts Center yesterday evening. The event included an address by keynote speaker Rev. L. Tyrone Crider and performances by the Community Mass Choir.

In addition, the University will be holding its own commemoration Jan. 27, featuring keynote speaker Diane Nash, a Civil Rights activist.

Rev. Alvin Edwards, chairman of the city's Martin Luther King Celebration Committee, said Crider was chosen for his strong involvement with King's legacy and principles.

A graduate of Morehouse College, King's alma mater, Crider has been involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, youth voter registration campaigns and other social efforts for young people. The celebration incorporated Crider's advocacy of youth programs by featuring a performance of the community's children choir, Edwards said.

Last night's celebration also included the bestowal of the Martin Luther King Jr. award, which is annually presented to an area resident who has shown a strong commitment to civil rights.

This year's honoree, pastor R.A. Johnson, was selected for his lifelong service as a "spokesperson for equality and involvement in desegregation efforts," Edwards said.

Charlottesville Mayor Maurice Cox praised the event as a distinct and unifying opportunity for the area.

In addition to "bridging the University and Charlottesville communities" by including University officials and students in its commemoration, the celebration is "annually well-regarded as an event bringing together all the communities of Charlottesville across class, race and religion, in one assembly," Cox said. "It's one of our finer moments."

Greer Wilson, a musician with the Community Mass Choir, said the event helps unite local citizens. The choir itself is comprised of over 150 Charlottesville residents from varying races and religions, Wilson said.

"It really cuts across all sections of the community," Wilson added.

While Martin Luther King Jr. Day is recognized annually by the community, this year's celebrations are especially relevant in light of recent events specific to Charlottesville, Cox said.

Given the bicentennial anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, as well as the weekend's anti-war rally downtown, "the celebration has all the more meaning to us locally this year," Cox said. The Lewis and Clark commemoration's "idea of two white men, an Indian woman and an African-American slave exploring this under extraordinary circumstances in many ways anticipated what this nation would continue to fight for."

Sarah Lazman, a rally organizer and peace advocate with the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice, agreed, saying the weekend peace rally is reminiscent of Rev. King's opposition to the Vietnam War.

Black Fraternal Council Co-Chairman Michael Dunkley agreed with Lazman's sentiment.

This year's holiday "hopefully will serve as a reminder or catalyst" for such principles, Dunkley said. He added that the BFC will be involved in the University's separate commemoration and that a number of BFC chapters will likely hold individual programs to mark the holiday.

The University's Martin Luther King event, sponsored by numerous organizations, will feature student presentations such as the Mahogany Dance Troupe in addition to Nash's address.

Fourth-year College student Tim Lovelace, the student member of the Board of Visitors, said the holiday has significance for all students, particularly in terms of the leadership roles permeating University life.

"If we understand Dr. King's legacy in its entirety, then we understand the importance of group-centered leadership," Lovelace said. "Group-centered leadership has a definite impact here at the University, and society at large."

Next Monday's commemoration will be held at 7 p.m. in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom. The event is free and open to all students.

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