The MLK Jr. Celebration Choir sings at the start of the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration Sunday afternoon at First Presbyterian Church in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The MLK Jr. Celebration Choir sings at the start of the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration Sunday afternoon at First Presbyterian Church in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Martin Luther King’s spirit of service, selflessness still needed

A celebration of the Civil Rights leader’s legacy and life reflected on past and present struggles.

EVERETT — Nearly 52 years after his death, the labors of Martin Luther King Jr. are still needed.

That message was relayed during a boisterous and jubilant celebration Sunday in Everett of the Civil Rights leader’s legacy, life and martyrdom.

“Don’t think that because we have a national day for a black man that his work is over,” said Leilani Miller, founder of Millennia Ministries and the event’s keynote speaker.

Through dance, drama, song and speech, people reflected on civil rights struggles, past and present.

A hip-hop performance from Jazz Digga and Prince Cacho drew in the packed crowd at Everett First Presbyterian Church with a call and response of “Dr. King!”

The Mariner High School step team stomped and clapped out against violence against people of color. The message was pounded in during a refrain in the group’s final steps, “Hands up. Don’t shoot. All lives won’t matter until black lives matter. Hands up. Don’t shoot.”

Miller said people should be spurred to act because people remain chained far and near, and spoke about addictions, sex trafficking and unjust incarcerations and death penalties as modern examples.

“My heart aches for those in bondage today because it shouldn’t be that way,” she said.

Miller grew up in a military family with her father serving in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War. She said she remembered living on a base in North Carolina during segregation in the South.

“Any time we went off the military base, we had to be mindful of where we were,” she said. That meant they weren’t allowed into popular department stores “because we were colored.”

Laws make that treatment illegal in the United States. But it doesn’t mean that the behavior vanished.

The FBI had 7,120 hate crimes reported to its Uniform Crime Reporting program in 2018. The majority of those crimes were motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry bias.

Snohomish County reported two such crimes as well as five that were motivated by religion. Edmonds, Everett, Lake Stevens, Lynnwood, Marysville, Mill Creek, Monroe and Mountlake Terrace law enforcement reported 23 hate crimes combined that year.

A dramatic performance by youths of a mock news broadcast made the point that people of color often can be portrayed in mass media as guilty, even if they are the victims of violence.

One of the faux segments was about a young black teen shot by law enforcement after a 911 caller used a racial slur that was changed to “suspicious black man” wearing “baggy pants and Air Jordans.” The narrative shifted after the teen’s family said he had been attacked and was disoriented when the police officer found him. It concluded with that imaginary teen’s high school football teammates taking a knee during the homecoming game in solidarity.

“Right now, my teammate is down, so we are all down,” one performer said.

People are struggling with oppression, Miller said, and it affects everyone. That’s why the work ahead will be up to all, like King’s message that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“When people sit lethargically and allow things to happen to other people, it begins to affect their mindset,” she said.

Later, she said, “Dr. King obviously got off his couch.”

She and a representative of the Snohomish County chapter of the NAACP invited people to sacrifice comfort for acts that create a more just world. Some recommendations were to volunteer in support of vulnerable populations, to get active in politics and attend government meetings to demand justice.

“If we really, really want to honor that legacy, it has to be more than one day,” Miller said.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037. Twitter @benwatanabe.

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