The theme was consistent — nonviolence and character.
It was the message that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered and practiced throughout his life, and it was reinforced Tuesday night, directed to Akron’s young people at an NAACP-sponsored community event in celebration of King’s memory.
About 100 people came out to St. Paul’s AME Church on South Hawkins Avenue to support the event and share their feelings about what King’s legacy meant to them. Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be celebrated Jan. 21 this year.
Darian Johnson, 22, of Akron, the youth president of the NAACP’s Akron chapter, said he made a commitment that when he turned 18 he would get a job and turn to public service. He told the youths at the event: “If you don’t have a mentor, find one.”
He also made a plea to the elders present. “We need your encouragement and mentorship.”
Recent crimes involving guns nationwide as well as in Akron were addressed during the event.
Meanwhile, former Akron City Councilwoman Renee Green talked about King’s visit in 1967 to Cleveland’s Glenville High School, which she attended. She recalled how his presence stood out with his straight back and proud shoulders as he walked to the auditorium to speak to students.
She spoke proudly of her neighborhood with college professors and how people in those days tried to watch out for one another.
“But nowadays, often there is no one living next door to young people who are going to work, and youth will be what they see.”
The Rev. Dr. Vince Monden, pastor of Wesley Temple AME Zion Church, said people need to talk to one another and do what King did by listening and respecting the opinions of others.
Monden talked about using social networking media such as Twitter and Facebook as a nonviolent approach to educate people and to learn how to communicate.
Councilman-at-large Michael Williams said his childhood was affected by the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy. He remembered when he was young, his family would travel to Columbus, Miss., to visit family and the car would be packed with a cooler of food to be eaten at a roadside stop.
Williams said he didn’t know as a young man that a black family wasn’t welcome in some restaurants and hotels. He said King’s legacy positively affected changes but warned the youth of today that progress from those changes could be lost.
“Don’t just accept what is going on. ... Things don’t always have to be the way they are. King and others changed the world and you have the same power. Some people would try to convince you that you do not, but you do,” he said.
He asked the youths to hold their elders accountable.
Councilwoman-at-large Linda Omobien encouraged young people and adults to make their vote count and said they can make the difference daily at local and state levels.
Akron Municipal Judge Annalisa Williams talked about the legal system and conversations with young people in trouble. Growing up in Youngstown, she said a teacher once told her that she would never graduate from high school. She said she had a stuttering problem but overcame it. She was not discouraged, because she had loving parents and mentors. She called herself a late bloomer.
“If you have problems, there is no shame in getting help. I had to get help,” she said.
She said her stumbling blocks were “delays, not denials.” She sang the words to Mahalia Jackson’s song If I Can Help Somebody.
“As I travel along
If I can help somebody
With a word or song
If I can help somebody
From doing wrong
My living shall not be in vain.”
When she got to “my living shall not be in vain,” she said that was the life of King.
“Dare to believe that you can accomplish the things you believe in,” she said.
Montiere O’Neal, 16, a sophomore at Garfield High, said because of King’s legacy, he can socialize with all people, has the opportunity to get a good education, can sit anywhere he wants on a bus and do things that were not allowed 60 years ago.
Tesha Strobelt-McCann, 13, of Akron Digital Academy, said instead of New Year’s resolutions, her family chooses words to live by throughout the year. Her word was bravery. She said she believed King was brave to put himself in dangerous situations on behalf of the rights of others time after time.
“My mom used to tell me to sit up front on the school bus and in class, but I wanted to be a cool kid and they always sat in the back. I used to say, ‘Why is that person doing that?’ But I have learned to say, ‘Why aren’t I helping that person?’ ”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.