‘Freedom is not free.’ UK hosts 50th anniversary celebration for Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Panelists on stage raise their fists during the Civil Rights Leader Panel at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50th Anniversary Celebration at The Singletary Center in Lexington, Kentucky, on January 17, 2023. From left to right are Betty Baye, Aaron-Ann Funfsinn, Mattie Jones, John Johnson, and Charles Neblett. Photo by Samuel Colmar | Kentucky Kernel

Paul Schlowak, Reporter

The University of Kentucky hosted the 50th Anniversary Celebration for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Tuesday at the Singletary Center for the Arts Concert Hall.

The event hosted a dynamic celebration with live entertainment and a panel discussion to recognize King’s work as a civil rights leader in the United States.

UK Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Katrice Albert, introduced the choir “Uniting Voices Chicago,” organized around efforts of global leadership and uniting a diverse community.

The choir does so through the power of music. One of the songs performed at the event was with the repeated chorus of “We Are United.”

Albert said music “has (a) unifying impact on people.” 

This was reflected in the 50th anniversary celebration of the federal holiday Martin Luther King Jr. Day where people stood in unity for racial and social peace.

The panel featured former NAACP KY representative John Johnson, civil rights and social justice activist Mattie Jones and civil rights leader and Freedom Singer Charles Neblett, all of whom share a background in civil rights activism. 

An additional featured panelist Aaron-Ann Cole Funfsinn, a board member of the Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass, spoke with journalist and moderator Betty Baye. The two shared their experiences and stories in a segregated USA, as well as their hopes and motivations. 

Some of the other featured guests spoke on personal stories of discrimination and segregation as well.

Jones told a story of being denied a work-study position while attending university in the 50s and the time spent devoting her life towards civil rights activism and social justice.

She later joined the Black Workers Coalition and worked alongside Neblett and Johnson to continue their ongoing fight against segregation and inequality. 

“Freedom is not free, it costs,” Jones said. “We have not killed racism.”

Neblett agreed and said society must continue to make changes against present-day acts of white supremacy.

Johnson joined his calls for action where he encouraged the audience to get involved and said the movement continues.

The panelists were awarded with a standing ovation and the choir concluded the event with a final performance.