In this Aug. 28, 1963 photo, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to thousands during his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in Washington D.C. (AP Photo/File)

In this Aug. 28, 1963 photo, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to thousands during his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in Washington D.C. (AP Photo/File)

Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a time of tumult

Community leaders Daria Willis and April Berg are finding new ways to honor King during COVID-19.

EVERETT — In 2021, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is more important than ever, two community leaders said.

COVID-19 will keep communities from gathering in person this holiday, but King’s legacy will continue to be celebrated and memorialized.

“He stood for unity. This day gives us a great sense of pause for us to really think about democracy, the state of our country and who we want to be,” said Daria Willis, president of Everett Community College. “I still think Dr. King’s dream is alive and well, but what the current events have shown us is we still have a long way to go.”

Snohomish County, like many communities across the country, saw several large marches and protests for racial justice in 2020 following the May death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis and other incidents.

Willis, EvCC’s first African-American president, focused on 19th and 20th century African Americans, women and the South, when she earned her doctorate in history. She’ll moderate a discussion with journalist Marc Lamont Hill on race, politics and American life Wednesday , as part of the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee’s commemoration of the holiday.

Everett Community College President Daria Willis, photographed here July 23, 2019 in Everett, is the moderator for a discussion with journalist Marc Lamont Hill on race, politics and American life Wednesday. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Everett Community College President Daria Willis, photographed here July 23, 2019 in Everett, is the moderator for a discussion with journalist Marc Lamont Hill on race, politics and American life Wednesday. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

The event, Willis said, is an opportunity to shine a light on who we are and who we want to be as a community.

“It takes love to overcome our differences, if we can put our differences aside and realize we are all here for the same purpose, I think we will be a better place soon enough,” Willis said.

On Monday, April Berg, an Everett School Board member and a newly elected state representative for the 44th Legislative District, will be one of the speakers at the committee’s virtual rally honoring Dr. King. The event, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. will be streamed live through the group’s Facebook, Instagram and on the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee website.

Berg cited King’s quote, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” when considering the holiday’s context this year. She said it’s a reminder that the journey to equity and inclusion has not been completed.

“It’s more important now than ever to really reflect on his life and his life of nonviolent action,” Berg said. “That concept of meeting a moment of severe violence and severe oppression with nonviolent action was radical then and it feels radical now, because with everything we see on TV it seems like the world is going the opposite way.”

April Berg

April Berg

Berg said she’ll be in session on Monday, holding meetings, speaking with constituents and addressing King’s legacy in a speech to the House. The holiday, she said, is a reminder that the work isn’t over.

“Sitting here as the first Black woman to represent the 44th, his legacy means so much to me, his legacy is why I am sitting here,” Berg said. “I feel like in some ways me getting up in the morning and serving in the Washington state House of Representatives is honoring Dr. King.”

Willis said she plans to spend Monday talking to her three young children about King’s impact and what it means to live out his dream. There’s no age too young to start the discussions that help us understand one another, she said.

Both women encouraged finding alternative ways to honor and serve in King’s memory by educating yourself, helping at home or through small acts of kindness.

“We still have to work hard and respect each other, respect our differences, to move forward,” Willis said. “To me that’s what I look to when I look at this holiday and Dr. King’s legacy.”

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; idavisleonard@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.

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