Parents spoke quietly to their children at Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Tacoma, explaining an exhibit of photographs, posters, books and news clippings about the civil rights leader.
One mom lined up her children so she could snap a picture of them in front of the artifacts.
Watching the children engage with the collection pleased James Broggin, who with his wife Terri has been collecting the materials for most of their 26-year married life.
Broggin said there’s plenty for kids to learn within the collection, but that even adults often find surprising new facts about King as they peruse it.
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Monday was a day dedicated to remembering the past, the achievements of King and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But around the country, and in Tacoma, too, much of the talk was of the present.
At the city’s 29th annual King Day celebration, many speakers quoted King, but called for political and community action to defend the freedoms he fought for.
I’m asking you, Tacoma, are you ready to work?
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, cited King’s famous words about the arc of the “moral universe” bending toward justice. But, he and others noted, it doesn’t bend on its own — people have to work at it.
“I’m asking you, Tacoma, are you ready to work?” Kilmer asked.
He talked about nationwide tensions between police and the black community over deadly encounters between police and black motorists.
“A broken tail light should never be a death sentence,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, said he wonders what King would say about threats to voting rights or the impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
“I think Dr. King would say, ‘Stand up and speak out,’ ” Heck said. He urged those in the audience to stand up, and they did.
Harold Moss, Tacoma’s first African-American mayor, who also served as a Democrat on the Pierce County Council, recounted his work in Tacoma and the national work of King and his associates during the 1960s.
But the 87-year-old Moss said he now refers to himself as one of the O.G.’s — the old guys. He said among his proudest achievements is the passing of the torch to a new generation of Tacoma’s black leaders, including mayoral hopeful Victoria Woodards, City Councilman Keith Blocker and Tacoma School Board member Andrea Cobb.
“We will use our time and energy to support them,” Moss said.
She knows the power of unlocking a mind
Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, speaking about honoree Maxine Mimms
Republican Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier said that, for him, the foundation of King’s “beloved community” — the theme of Monday’s event — is education. Dammeier, a former state senator, said he’s concerned about the state’s inequitable school funding system.
He commended the work of educators who are making a difference in Pierce County, including those in the Tacoma and Franklin Pierce school districts, where graduation rates have been rising.
He also praised Maxine Mimms, who received the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award at Monday’s event, saying that “she knows the power of unlocking a mind.”
Mimms, the driving force behind the founding of the Tacoma branch of The Evergreen State College, urged people to change their vocabulary. Instead of merely celebrating King or citing his “I Have a Dream” speech, she urged people to start with a stark new self-examination.
“Pull off your clothes,” she said. “Strip the externals, get in front of a full-length mirror and say, ‘What will be my contribution from this day forward?’ ”
Gina Hatcher and Sharon Freeman, both members of the local chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, established in 1908 by black college women, said they were inspired by Monday’s speeches. Their organization is already involved in community service, serving meals to the hungry at Urban Grace Church and raising money to help students afford college.
“I’m optimistic,” Hatcher said. “A lot of us have been inspired to take more action.”
Freeman said she’s been coming to Tacoma’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day event since 1990.
“It always makes me feel like I’ve come home,” she said. “I feel hopeful and very proud of this city and its commitment to celebrate all lives.”
What: 31st annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 17).
Where: Schneebeck Concert Hall at the University of Puget Sound.
Speaker: Julianne Malveaux, labor economist, author and commentator. Her latest book is “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy.”
Other: Messages from President Isiaah Crawford; Shannon Woods, president of the campus Black Student Union; and Noah Lumbantobing, president of Associated Students of the University of Puget Sound. Presentation of the annual Keep Living the Dream Award.