By Tricia Hall
The Truth Reporter
The City of Toledo’s Human Relations Commission (HRC) collaborated with multiple community-based agencies to organize a multi-day acknowledgement and celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The festivities commenced with a Multifaith Universal Service on Monday, January 9 starting at 6:00 p.m. and continued with a full schedule of activities referred to as the MLK Experience. Those events began on Friday, January 13 and concluded on Monday, January 16, 2023. The observations included faith-based experiences, expression experiences and economic focused experiences.
The MLK Experience weekend began with a Friday night poetry experience held at Lucille’s Jazz Lounge, located at 1447 Summit St, and featured local artists of various spoken word styles.
The festivities continued by calling on Toledo residents to support two local black-owned businesses on Friday and Saturday. In partnership with HRC, Jera’s Heavenly Sweets and The Onyx Cafe offered a free select menu item for patrons over the two-day period. Jera’s, located at 3059 W Bancroft, offered a free cookie to patrons, while The Onyx Café, located at 27 Broadway Street off Ottawa, offered patrons free coffee.
Jera’s Heavenly Sweets is conveniently located in the shopping plaza near the University of Toledo. Jera Stewart moved into the location in January 2021, during the height of the pandemic, and opened for business in September 2021.
“I’m excited to have a thriving business at this stage of my life. The dream works. I thank the City of Toledo for allowing us to participate. We have seen many new faces over these last two days that didn’t know the business existed,” shared Jera Stewart, owner of Jera’s Heavenly Sweets.
Saturday’s festivities also included the 31st annual MLK Scholarship Breakfast hosted by the men of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, Alpha Xi Lambda Chapter. The annual brunch raises scholarship dollars for local young men, spotlights a notable community leader and features an inspirational guest speaker.
The program opened with greetings from the event mistress of ceremonies, Kristian Brown of 13ABC news, a singing of the Negro National Anthem led by instrumentalist Mike Williams, invocation by Elder David Young and words from Sharon Speyer of the presenting sponsor Huntington Bank.
Immediately following breakfast, Tina Butts of The Movement Toledo Lucas County was awarded the coveted Drum Major for Justice Award.
“If you know Tina, then you know she is The Movement. Her efforts registered voters and led an effort for people to receive the COVID vaccine,” shared Brown during the award introduction.
Tina Butts and The Movement Team advocate and assist the underprivileged. They led a COVID-19 vaccine awareness campaign, are working with Greenbelt Place Apartments and partner with several local partners including the local Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity chapter and Connecting Kids to Meals.
“The women in this community are really out there and supportive. I have also received support and protection from the brothers in our community. We are The Movement,” shared Butts during the opening remarks of her acceptance speech.
The 31st annual scholarship breakfast’s featured keynote speaker was Brian Dawkins, a Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2018, who also had his Eagles #20 jersey retired in 2012. “I am humbled by this opportunity and I want to thank everyone that made this possible. Hopefully something that I say here will encourage somebody to move. There are ways that your greatness is being kept from the world, whether it’s your environment, family or etc. You can overcome it,” shared Dawkins.
Additionally, five deserving young men were awarded scholarships. The fraternity’s local chapter has awarded more than 120 scholarships to local men. Jaiden Butler attends St. John’s High School, is active in several groups including School Ambassadors, maintains a 3.57 GPA, is considering three colleges including Ohio State University and plans to study science.
Malik Dawson attends Springfield High School and is currently the field commander for the marching band, maintains a 2.76 GPA, was accepted to Xavier University and plans to study music.
Cameron Knabbs currently attends Woodward high school, is earning college credits at Owens Community College, maintains a 4.0 GPA, is this year’s Homecoming King, has played varsity basketball for three years and plans to attend North Carolina A&T to study computer science.
Noah Langford attends Central Catholic High School, maintains a 3.5 GPA, and has remained on the honor roll since his freshman year.
Benjamin Williams attends Ottawa Hills High School, maintains a 3.68 GPA, and is active in several causes including Books for Buddies.
In addition to the funds raised by the fraternity, presenting sponsor Huntington Bank matched each individual scholarship that was announced. The fraternity also donated to the Toledo Public School Foundation and Executive Director Ashley Yoakem accepted the check.
“The brothers and I are looking forward to the future and we’re not okay with just an annual scholarship. The brothers and I are donating $2,500 to Write The Future campaign, because this is about our community’s children,” shared Rev. John Jones.
Day two of the MLK Experience featured a Sunday day of worship at two local faith-based institutions that each inspired their congregations and online Facebook viewers. The historic St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church began service at 10:45 a.m. and Transformation Church started service at 11:30 a.m.
St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church located at 1502 N Detroit and is under the leadership of Rev. James Willis, DMin. The service began with spirit-filled praise and worship led by church deacons, scripture, responsive reading and congregational hymn. The service incorporated special moments to commemorate the occasion. Dr. King’s favorite scripture Psalm 23:1-6 was read, a presentation of Dr. King was performed by Mikayla Evans, inserts from Dr. King’s speech, “I Have a Dream” speech were delivered by Celina Winfield and Rev. Willis spoke from Exodus 14:10-14 and drew inspiration from Dr. King’s life.
“Today is special to me because it’s Dr. King’s birthday and my mother’s birthday. My mother who attends every Sunday online from Mississippi is 96 years old. I look forward to our younger generations embracing the work done by Dr. King and I look forward to the time when society will remember and celebrate the advantages made possible by Dr. King not just today or this weekend but every day,” shared Rev. Willis.
Transformation Church, located at 5444 Airport Hwy, is under the leadership of Pastor Brandon Tucker. Guests were welcomed at the door as soulful renditions of praise, worship and Christian music filled the sanctuary. The praise and worship team, accompanied by a drummer and keyboardist harmonized various selections before the Pastor Tucker gave words to inspire the congregation and Facebook viewers.
“As we think about Dr. King and think about what he did as a blue print in today’s time. Dr. King was talked about, and second guessed as he stood up for others. Your light has to shine at our jobs and with our families. People will dim your light so don’t let other people affect us. Be focused in 2023,” shared Pastor Tucker.
The third day of the MLK Experience on Monday, January 16 began with a Unity Day Celebration that was held virtually and continued with an entire day of events to celebrate MLK Day at the Toledo Museum of Art.
The Unity Day Celebration began at 10:00 am with a conversation featuring Chuck Ealey. The celebration continued with the National Anthem and Negro National Anthem, greetings from dignitaries and featured Keynote Speaker Bree Newsome. Additionally, the virtual celebration included special performances by The My5tery Music Band, J.P. Dynasty, United Vision Choir, Toledo Opera, spoken artists and musicians.
“Thank you for joining us. The University of Toledo is proud to partner with the City of Toledo to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,” said Gregory Postel, MD,University of Toledo president during a welcome address.
“Welcome to the 2023 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr celebration. The City of Toledo and Human Relations Commission for once again partnering with the University of Toledo’s 22nd annual community event. Thank you for tuning in to this virtual event,” shared Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz during a welcome address.
The Museum’s celebration opened with a performance from BGSU Voices Choir, free screening of SELMA, touring of featured African American artwork and featured guest speaker Calvin Burney, EdD, a developer of youth empowerment and superintendent of Rise and Shine Academy which is located in North Toledo.
The history of Martin Luther King Jr. Day centers around the actual birthday of the civic right icon, which is January 15, 1929. To commemorate his legacy, the third Monday of January was approved as a federal holiday in 1983 and by 2000 all 50 states made it a state government holiday. South Carolina was the last state to ratify the date. The King Center in Atlanta outlined the chronological history and efforts behind this effort. Dr. King would have been 93 this weekend.