The Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Arlington has big plans in 2014 for its four-day 25th-anniversary event Jan. 17-20.
This year’s theme, “Advancing the Dream: The Time is Now,” will focus on the progress made throughout the country more than 50 years after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Event chairwoman Cheryel Carpenter said this year organizers are doing things a little bit bigger in honor of the special occasion.
“No other city has a celebration that long for Dr. King,” Carpenter said. “We’re really excited about the changes and great things this city has to celebrate.”
Carpenter, who has been involved with the committee since 1994, said many residents can remember the city’s first celebration event in 1989 at First United Methodist Church featuring an ecumenical service, art show and more for the community. The first observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day was just three years earlier in 1986.
This year, they’re returning to the church where it all started.
New events will feature the Living Legends Awards, which will be presented to two people chosen by the committee. The recipients are people Carpenter said the committee felt exemplified the ideals of King, who are active in the community and who have made a large impact on the city and Tarrant County.
The keynote speaker will be nationally syndicated journalist Roland Martin, who will speak on the theme of advancing the dream to the next level.
The committee will work with the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries to house a special collections unit filled with memorabilia from the past 25 years, Carpenter said. The exhibit will feature artwork, essays, photos, videos and more and will be displayed later this spring.
The church will hold a viewing of The Freedom Riders, a film about the civil-rights activists who rode segregated buses in 1961. After the showing, the community is invited to participate in a discussion on the film and its relevance today.
Other events include a youth musical extravaganza, step show, spoken word show and multicultural festival.
Former Arlington Mayor Elzie Odom said the multicultural festival is one of the most exciting aspects of this year’s celebration.
“To me, that means more than anything else,” Odom said. “Trying to involve everybody, that’s the most important thing.”
Odom served as the event chair for several years and has made a point to attend the celebration every year since its inception in 1989. He also helped with fundraising and marketing the event to the city.
To Odom, the importance of this celebration is gathering the community together to realize the progress made in the past 50 years and to continue to grow using King’s message.
“Our country today needs now more than ever to put down the hate, the distrust, and learn to love one another, trust one another,” he said. “Those are the things this celebration is trying to advance. That’s the problem with our country and it’s going into our families and communities. We need to get it out of a kid’s mind that if he doesn’t like his English teacher to go buy a gun and shoot him.”
Carpenter said she most looks forward to seeing the community come out and reflect on how far society has gone.
“I think Dr. King inspired us in so many ways to care and make a difference and be fair,” she said. “Just love one another and respect one another.”