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VOL. 126 | NO. 9 | Thursday, January 13, 2011

Memphis Orgs Gear up for MLK Weekend

Nonprofits to host remembrance events, service opportunities

By Aisling Maki

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Perhaps more so than in any other city because of its prominent place in the history of the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Memphis serves as a strong reminder of King’s legacy of service to others and his powerful advocacy for social change through nonviolent action.

In the city where the civil rights icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner was shot to death in 1968, nonprofit groups this weekend will celebrate what would have been King’s 82nd birthday with cake, culture, fellowship, reflection and – maybe most befittingly – service.

The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center was formed on King’s birthday in 1982. The organization, dedicated to fostering communities of peace, social justice and human rights through education and nonviolent action, will celebrate its 29th anniversary Saturday evening with a gala inside the sanctuary of First Congregational Church at 1000 S. Cooper St.

The event, titled “Living the Legacy of Non-Violence: A Grassroots Gala and Banquet,” will feature music by Memphis artist Amy LaVere and a keynote address by attorney and civil rights activist Van Jones.

He was a former Obama administration special adviser on green jobs.

“This annual event provides an opportunity for our community to come together and celebrate the work we’ve done to pursue social justice in Memphis and the Mid-South,” said Jacob Flowers, executive director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, which also serves as a principal organizer of the city’s annual Gandhi-King Conference on Peacemaking.

The Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA), one of Memphis’ most well-known nonprofits, was founded in September of 1968 to address poverty and racial division in Memphis following the sanitation workers’ strike and King’s assassination earlier that year.

On Monday, MIFA will honor King’s legacy with a public birthday celebration at its headquarters at 910 Vance Ave.

During the event, MIFA will announce the 15 finalists of its sixth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Contest. Bishop Edward Houston Stephens Jr. of Memphis’ Golden Gate Cathedral will give a keynote address centered on the impact of King’s life and teachings.

The celebration will conclude with birthday cake, and volunteers from MIFA Meals on Wheels will depart for a special holiday meal delivery to 1,800 homebound seniors.

No site in Memphis has a more profound connection to King than the National Civil Rights Museum at 450 Mulberry St. in the South Main Historic Arts District.

It was there on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, now a permanent exhibition of the museum, the 39-year-old was shot one day after giving his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at the Church of God in Christ Mason Temple in South Memphis.

In honor of King’s birthday and his legacy of service, the National Civil Rights Museum in conjunction with the Mid-South Food Bank will host a weekend food drive to feed thousands of Mid-Southerners in need.

Nonperishable canned items will be collected at the museum Saturday through Monday.

On Saturday, the museum invites children ages 5 to 10 to a “Breakfast Fit for a King.”

In addition to the first meal of the day, activities will include a dramatic portrayal, arts and crafts, music and movement workshop and a performance by local youth dance troupe Watoto de Afrika.

On Monday, the museum will offer reduced $3 general admission, $2 admission with a canned food donation, or free admission with onsite donation to Lifeblood.

Meanwhile, AmeriCorps Project TLC and the Exchange Club Family Center will host more than 300 volunteers from across Tennessee at the Promise Academy in North Memphis.

Volunteers will paint murals in the elementary school in an effort to transform it into a positive, inspirational learning environment.

Also on Monday, Volunteer Mid-South, an affiliate of the national Hands On Network, will host a day of cultural exchange at KIPP: Memphis (Knowledge is Power Program) charter school at 230 Henry Ave. near Uptown.

Volunteers and students will work together to assemble personal hygiene kits for Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services, a nonprofit that serves more than 500 newly arrived refugees and other immigrants annually.

Volunteers and students will also make blankets for refugee children and participate in a variety of renovation projects around the school, including the creation of a global reading nook in the library at the school.

The projects are part of “Travel With Your Mind,” Volunteer Mid-South’s partnership with American Express and Delta that brings community volunteers together to engage students to be global thinkers and citizens without having to leave their own backyards.

The program is part of a larger effort by the Hands On Network to bring together thousands of citizens across the nation through service projects honoring King’s legacy.

“Martin Luther King left a legacy of service, and maybe people have the day off and they choose to make it a day on for serving others,” said Mark Dean, executive director of Volunteer Mid-South.

“If people have other things planned that day, we encourage people to commit to service throughout the year. Don’t feel as if you have to wait for a holiday to serve or volunteer. If you’re not able to go out and do something that day, use it as an opportunity to talk about what’s important about service, and make a commitment to serve at another time.”

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