Edmonds Martin Luther King Jr. tribute: Bringing community together

By Maria A. Montalvo | Jan 22, 2019

“Always fight with love,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. told us.

On Monday in Edmonds, MLK Day, a group of citizens came together to highlight the lessons that King taught us, the most central being “love.”

“A Tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Inspiring a Beloved Community in Song, Spoken Word and Dance” at Edmonds Center for the Arts created an atmosphere of a beloved community – the moniker of the event – and certainly inspired in plenty a yearning to engage and make change.

The tribute included two performances, a morning family program, and an evening tribute produced in partnership with ECA. Both included song, spoken word and dance, and used storytelling and music to bring people together.

The Lift Every Voice Legacy (LEVL) is a collection of friends, concerned citizens, and volunteers who gathered informally over the last couple of years, explained Donnie Griffin, the founding principal, until they formulated a clear vision for the tribute.

A youth-driven program was added to feature youth performing and presenting their perspectives on community building and racial justice and equity, led primarily by Courtney Wooten, also a member of LEVL.

The morning program included dancers from Northside STEP and the Kaleidoscope Dance Company, as well as Edmonds United Methodist Church Joyful Noise Choir, two poets, the Edmonds Community College Oratory Contest winner, Ritika Khanal, and nationally known author and speaker, Gloria Burgess (the last two also participated in the evening tribute).

AUMC Joyful Noise Choir began the family show with a call and response performance of the chorus of Leonard Cohen’s “Ring the Bells” and welcomed the audience with a hopeful message that remained throughout the performance.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in

Nasra Ali and Namaka Auwae-Dekker recited two poems – one written jointly and one by Auwae-Dekker alone. Both women are youth leaders with the organization Y-WE (Young Women Empowered), and the poems told of lives impacted by having black and brown skin, and the understanding and resilience created by awareness.

Performers with Northside STEP, created an atmosphere of defiance and joy simultaneously. They presented the inspiring theme for the overall program, “Together We Are Stronger”, in one performance, along with presentations called “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter,” challenging the whole audience to pay attention and be a part of healing what is broken in our society.

The Kaleidoscope Dance Company danced to demonstrate cooperation, community, and strength of commitment. The last dance and act of the show was a tribute choreographed by two dancers more than 30 years ago after learning of the story of Stephen Biko, the anti-apartheid activist assassinated in 1977.

The Northwest Choir, directed by Juan Huey-Ray and featuring soloist Vanessa Bruce, channeled survival, hope, and love, through their gospel performance. More than two dozen dancers from the Barclay Shelton Dance Centre presented a lovely interpretation of “All You Need is Love” by John Lennon, bringing a smile to every face in the audience.

Presenting both in the morning and evening shows was local high school freshman Ritika Khanal, who won the recent Edmonds Community College Oratory Contest about peace (a contest open to all Edmonds high school and community college students).

She spoke about learning what peace meant. She advised the audience that disagreement is necessary to promote innovation and growth, but that disagreement does not have to mean hate. She encouraged everyone in the room to reach out and get to know new people in our community on a daily basis.

In the evening tribute, Burgess presented her father’s message of “Pass It On,” the lesson that resonated with him for a lifetime after hearing it from author William Faulkner. As an African-American child growing up in 1930s Mississippi, her father’s dreams of living in a house with running water and graduating from college seemed out of reach.

An act of kindness from Faulkner, who sent Burgess’ father to college, helped to make his dreams a reality and start his lifelong commitment to supporting others. The oration was delicately and beautifully accompanied by choreography by the Noelle Price and Price Arts dance troupe.

For the morning program, however, Burgess, sat alone on stage and told the story of her father and his two dreams. Although told in completely different ways for the two audiences, both were brilliant in their impact and intensity.

The LEVL committee presented the first Beloved Community Award to Sarah, an elementary student from Shoreline, who petitioned the school board to name a new building after Edwin Pratt, a largely unknown civil rights activist who was killed in his Shoreline home in 1959.

The level of professionalism and attention to detail of this tribute were exceeded only by the kindness and sense of community conveyed.

The full quote from Dr. King was, “Let us fight passionately and unrelentingly to the goals of justice. Let’s be sure that our hands are clean. Let us never fight with falsehood and violence and hate and malice, but always fight with love so that when the day comes and the walls of segregation are completely crumbled … we will be able to live with people as brothers.”

Each of the individuals on the stage for this tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. directly connected with the individuals in the audience, and shared a love for our community that can only inspire love for our fellow human.

Maria A. Montalvo is a member of the Edmonds Diversity Commission and writes the Arts & Appetite and Moment’s Notice columns for the Beacon.


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