By Olivia Jones
Lexington’s Heritage Hall was filled with attentive listeners as musicians and speakers took their turns on stage for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration Commemorative Program Monday afternoon.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Holiday Celebration Committee invited political correspondent and commentator, social activist and award-winning journalist Jeff Johnson to speak at the event, which followed a freedom march through downtown Lexington.
According to Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, this holiday celebration began forty years ago as a candlelight vigil at UK.
“There are certain events that have a long legacy of service to the community, and the Lexington event in particular has been a staple to the community for decades,” Johnson said. “It is such an honor (to have been invited to speak).”
Referring to his speech preparations, Johnson said that he rarely uses notes and that public speaking is like a precursor to taking action.
“How do we take dramatic information and give recommendations to create change that they want to see? It’s helpful to talk to folks in the community to know what’s happening there…to have some sense of issues in the community,” he said. “I don’t view my speaking as just speaking. It’s an extension of my activism.”
Throughout his speech, Johnson stressed that people should not only celebrate the accomplishments King brought on, but realize that there is plenty of work still to be done.
“What will you do with your hands?” Johnson asked. “Clap or serve?”
Johnson had plans to leave Lexington after his speech to attend President Barack Obama’s inauguration ball.
UK President Eli Capilouto also commented on Martin Luther King Jr’s “legacy of love” and “culture of respect.”
According to Joseph Owens, Shiloh Baptist Church pastor and president of the National Board of Directors of Direct Action Research Training, there were other opportunities to honor King’s sacrifices after the commemorative program concluded.
The Explorium of Lexington offered discounted tickets to an exhibit highlighting notable African Americans while the Kentucky Theatre played a free screening of Harry Belafonte’s documentary, “Sing Your Song.”
UK’s Center for Community Outreach also challenged students to serve the community through its Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
The event brought together students from UK, Bluegrass Community and Technical College and Transylvania University to complete service projects at various locations, including Jacobson Park, Camp Kearney and William Wells Brown Community Center.
“He (Martin Luther King Jr.) was one of the most selfless people in history and looked out for everyone,” said biology junior Burhan Johar, who participated in the challenge. “I think the best way to honor him is to go out and help others.”