The number of local opportunities to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day appear a bit limited to some community members looking to honor the late civil rights activist.
“I feel like there could always be more to keep his vision alive,” said Joyce Goins, president of the Johnson City Washington County NAACP.
She suggested having a parade that would increase the involvement of children in the holiday.
“They have one in Kingsport, but I don’t know how many people are going to go over there,” she said. “I think it would be nice if they could have one in the area.”
Adam Dickson, chair of the MLK Steering Committee, foresees the day becoming more service-oriented and existing along with other traditional local events like today’s prayer breakfast at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, 225 Princeton Road, as well as the blood drive and dinner at Carver Recreation Center, 322 W. Watauga Ave., on Monday. Nationally, the federal holiday is recognized as a day of service.
“If we can continue to build on this day of service, that is a good barometer that people understand Dr. King and his life and legacy,” Dickson said.
Dickson said action is synonymous with Dr. King, so getting out and volunteering is one of the best ways to honor him. He suggested many forms of volunteerism such as delivering meals, visiting nursing homes or helping neighbors who are unable to do projects around their homes.
“It would be great to say 3,000 people across the Tri-Cities turned out to volunteer,” Dickson said. “It sounds a like a daunting task at first, but to make some constructive change would be an outstanding way to honor his legacy.”
Increasing the participation of young people, especially when it comes to the day of service, is an aspect of MLK Day that Ralph Davis would like to see improve.
“Young people think of it as working on their day off — it is not work, it’s service,” said Davis, vice president of the Tennessee NAACP and member of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. “It’s about doing things for people who can’t do them themselves. I would like to see us get back into that.”
Being service-minded, much like Dr. King was, is an attitude Dickson and fellow MLK Day supporter the Rev. Dr. C.H. Charlton would like to see more frequently than the third Monday in January.
“One of the best ways we can do it is to live the love through emotions and caring,” said Charlton, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church. “You can celebrate it 365 days that way to love people enough and that can be done every day.”
Placing more focus and attention on the legacy of Dr. King is the motivating factor behind many of the existing events that span over the weekend, such as the MLK worship service Sunday at First Presbyterian Worship Center, 105 S. Boone St., with Charlton serving as the speaker.
“A predominantly white church and a black church coming together to have a service. All of that is what he’s about, which is uplifting people,” said Mary Alexander, chair of the Langston Heritage Group.
She says the local events continue as part of an effort by the community to not overlook King’s contributions. Davis said special MLK programs like the worship service aren’t in danger of going by the wayside, but could still use additional support.
“We so easily forget the things that have been done,” Alexander said. “We take for granted the things you can do that you couldn’t before Dr. King.”
Not forgetting the life of a man who strove for inclusion and equality is the main focus of any intention to get a larger portion of the community involved in Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The annual blood drive hosted by the Johnson City Washington County NAACP on Monday is one example.
“The theme behind the blood drive is that so many people lost blood in the fight for inclusion, the least we could do would be do give a little of our blood,” Dickson said.
With experience serving on statewide groups and committees, Davis says Johnson City is on par with a lot of other communities. He and many of the city’s biggest MLK supporters see a variety of opportunities to observe the day, but more may form in the future.
“We have a number of things that we’re doing,” Charlton said. “Personally, I think what we’re doing goes well and it continues to expand. We’re always thinking.”