Martin Luther King keynoter’s message: ‘Rebuild the Dream’

Freedom and justice. Hope and peace. History and opportunity.

In the days ahead, as we focus on the words and dreams of Martin Luther King Jr., it is remarkable to see all the ways communities honor his legacy.

Gospel music, essays reflecting on King’s message of brotherhood and a speaker marked by controversy are all part of this year’s King celebrations in Snohomish County.

At the Lynnwood Convention Center, those attending a free celebration Thursday night will hear a keynote speech by Van Jones titled “Rebuild the Dream: The Next American Economy.”

Does his name sound familiar? In 2009, Jones resigned from a White House job after revelations surfaced about his past political activities.

A former adviser to President Barack Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality, Jones issued a public apology for once signing a petition for a group that questioned whether Bush administration officials allowed the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to happen, according to The Washington Post.

The 2009 Post article also said Jones was once involved with a radical Bay Area group, Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, and had advocated on behalf of an inmate convicted of shooting a Philadelphia police officer in the 1980s.

Julie Moore, community outreach specialist for Lynnwood’s Parks, Recreation &Cultural Arts Department, said the planning committee that chooses speakers for the King event was aware of Jones’ past. “He is very topical,” she said.

This will be the sixth year Lynnwood has hosted a city-wide King celebration in partnership with Edmonds Community College, the Edmonds School District and the YMCA of Snohomish County. Among other sponsors are Central Washington University, Journal Media Group, Friends of the Lynnwood Library, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Snohomish County Chapter and the Communities of Color Coalition.

Shirley Sutton, executive director of Diversity Affairs and Community Outreach at EdCC, said Jones’ $15,000 speaking free is paid largely by the partners’ support. “A committee that makes the choice includes a representative from each of those partners,” Sutton said.

Moore said past speakers at the Lynnwood event include broadcaster Juan Williams, who later lost his National Public Radio job over comments regarding Muslims; author Azim Khamisa, civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams, and radio host Derrick Ashong.

Sutton said Jones was one of about 25 speakers considered by the panel. She conducted a phone interview with Jones, author of “The Green Collar Economy.”

“We knew we wanted to bring someone who had some awareness around civil rights issues, but also a vision of what the community — citizens here and globally — can do to pull together,” Sutton said. About Jones’ history, Sutton said, “I would think some of us have things we were not necessarily all that proud of.”

“I do believe what he has done in the past spurred him to be a visionary for the future in many positive ways,” she said. “Think about what King’s dream was about. It was equality and justice, a healthy social environment for everyone. It was also the elimination of poverty.”

For the first time, the Lynnwood event will also include a performance by the Total Experience Gospel Choir.

While Jones is in Lynnwood, Everett’s Carl Gipson Senior Center will host a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday honoring winners of the Prodigies for Peace essay and art contest.

Beth Lucas, who serves on a panel of judges for the annual event, said more than 200 area students and adults wrote essays. The 2012 theme was King’s quote that “the jangling discords of our nation will be transformed into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

An essay written by Markus Smith, a 25-year-old Everett Community College student, won first place in the adult category. Smith said his essay related a “symphony of brotherhood” to volunteer work he does with area kids.

Two Mariner High School seniors, LaVendrick Smith and Faith Dawson, tied for first place in the student category. Dawson wrote that she turned a painful moment, an incident in which a boy told a joke about King, into a chance to talk with that student. “I decided I could either be mean or give him the opportunity to get to know somebody like me,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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