Public Invited to Connect with MLK’s “A Time to Break Silence”

Br. Washington Muhammad, Tom Galloway, and Sean Nestor read for the 2023 event and are returning in 2024

By Lynne Hamer, Ph.D.
Special to the Truth

The sixth annual Our Time to Break Silence: A Community Reading of Dr. Martin Luther King’s A Time to Break Silence will take place on Sunday, April 14, at 3 pm at Monroe Street Church, 3613 Monroe Street, Toledo. Doors open at 2:30 for this FREE event.

One year to the day before his assassination, on April 4, 1967, Dr. King gave this speech at New York’s historic Riverside Church. With it, he spoke as a world leader for human rights, expanding beyond his previous role as a national leader for civil rights.

In 2017, the National Council of Elders called for communities across the nation to present A Time to Break Silence in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the speech and as a call for contemporary action. Toledo citizens answered the call and Toledo has had a reading every year since 2017, except during the pandemic shutdown.

So far, this year 32 community organizations are sending readers and many will have information tables at the punch and cookie reception following the reading. Any additional organizations wishing to send readers for this year’s event should contact the organizing committee by April 1.

While Monroe Street United Methodist Church has hosted the event each year, the event is an independent community undertaking. The MLK Time To Break Silence Organizing Committee, comprised of community members who have participated in the event over the years, develops the program every year. Since 2023, Toledo Public Schools has cosponsored the event.

Diane Gordon, Hope Bland, Vernita Lewis Taylor, and Oscar Shaheer performed at the 2023 event and will return in 2024

TPS’s Dr. Joan Waldorf directed the Rogers High School choir for the event last year; this year she is part of the organizing committee. Waldorf explained, “Hearing King’s words spoken by people of all backgrounds moved me to join the planning committee. Being a teacher, I am always balancing the voice of critique, care and justice for my students. Knowing that, at some point, all of our voices are silenced, and that laws are being put into place by people who may or may not have our best interests at heart, I am always cognizant of what my relationships with others ask of me. I am honored to be chair for the music and spoken word this year.”

The event brings together representatives of many local groups, ranging from religious to civic to activist, that work to realize King’s ideal. The mission is (1) “inform and educate young people about Dr. King’s important impact,” (2) “build the movement to break silence, promote dialogue, and engage in nonviolent direct action,” and (3) “recognize the relevance of Dr. King’s words half a century later and to continue to Break the Silence today.”

The event promotes positivity and connection for all by highlighting the good work groups do and by providing an opportunity for others to join them. This is crucially important for our youth: The National Institutes of Health routinely issue reports on the grave effects of isolation on teen mental health, as well as teens’ dangerous levels of anxiety about political issues. The organizing committee hopes that the event helps youth connect with empowering organizations to break isolation and take action.

Groups that students and others might join range from the NAACP Youth Council, Ohio Unity Coalition and League of Women Voters, to the Citizens Solidarity Response Network (CSRN) and Move to Amend/Democracy Day, to the Sacred Spaces gardening initiative and the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio. Punch and cookies after the speech fuel conversations that make these connections.

In the music and spoken word program prior to the speech, students from TPS’s Scott High School and Grove Patterson Academy, Perrysburg High School, Ann Jerkins-Harris Academy of Excellence, Toledo School for the Arts, Toledo Islamic Academy, University of Toledo, and others will perform and display artwork on the theme of breaking silences and working together for peace and self-determination.

The Scott High School Choir, under the direction of Waldorf, will perform pieces reflecting the range and scope of the speech—from Aya Nygena, an authentic Zulu folk song, to Nothing is Gonna Stop Me, a driving piece about inner determination by Pinkzebra.

The heart of the event is King’s speech. It will be performed in its entirety (approximately 40 minutes) by representatives of community organizations. Each takes a paragraph and reads it verbatim, with hopes of making it relevant for today.

This year, the audience will also have the opportunity to be part of the reading. Led by TPS’s Vernita Lewis Taylor, audience members will be invited to read together thirteen key lines during the performance of the speech.

For example, early in the speech the audience will read Dr. King’s foundational observation, “Life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.” This is a core message of the speech: we must listen to others.

Later in the speech, the audience will contribute King’s insight that such trust requires love: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”

In between these big ideas, the speech provides a history lesson on the sorrows and inequities of the Vietnam War—sorrows echoed in armed conflicts across the world in 2024.

Vietnam War history will be localized in an educational display focused on Toledoans, which audience members can examine before and after the program. Joyce Stubblefield joined the organizing committee this year to contribute the history of Toledoans who fought and died in Vietnam, which was assembled by Glenn Stubblefield, her husband, prior to his death. Joyce will display Glenn’s work as well as her own work extending it, and will invite attendees to contribute memories of their own loved ones to the project.

Audience members can also practice listening during the reception. Students from the University of Toledo will tell their family and community stories of oppression informally, following the speech. Under the guidance of Dr. Fatima Aldajani, students’ t-shirts stating “Ask me my story” will invite individuals to reach out to them to listen. Telling these stories of gives young people the understanding of their history necessary for them to break silence and take action in the present—and their stories educate the rest of us.

The audience will conclude the speech with the pledge that inspires the event: “Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world.” They will end with King’s hopeful note:

If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”


Please contact the committee by April 1 to send a reader or have an information table at the event. Please attend the event on Sunday, April 14 at 3 pm (doors open at 2:30 and refreshments and conversation till 5:30), Monroe Street Church, 3613 Monroe Street, Toledo. Contact the MLK 2024 Break Silence Organizing Committee at 419-283-8288 (call or text) to participate or with questions. The author is a professor with the UToledo Judith Herb College of Educations and is part of the committee.