Thirty-five community groups from across the region came together Sunday April 8 at 4 p.m. to unite and inspire through the power of the spoken word.
Group presenters read aloud from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” while a crowd of about 80 community members gathered to listen in the sanctuary of Monroe Street United Methodist Church.
This is the second annual reading of the speech after the National Council of Elders called for people to present the speech all over the nation last year on April 4, the day on which Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.
The council consists of “20th century organizers committed to the theory of nonviolence, united to engage with organizers of the 21st century,” according to their website.
Lynne Hamer, program organizer for Monroe Street Church, planned the event last year as well as this year, which marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination.
Ms. Hamer said the title of the speech itself indicates the scope and timelessness of the speech which is still as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.
She said the speech could have been given for the first time on Sunday if not for the references to the Vietnam War.
“You could replace Vietnam with Syria and Afghanistan and it would be the same speech,” Ms. Hamer said.
She also pointed out different quotes from the speech that highlight it’s current relevance to our nation such as, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
“If we look at our current federal budget,” Ms. Hamer said, “the military spending is there; the tax cuts for the wealthy are there and the medical programs and food assistance programs for poor kids are being cut. I mean, how spiritually devastated is that?”
After the speech, Ms. Hamer said that many people shared how they were moved to tears or felt chills down their spine during the reading.
She said “the spirit in the place was just amazing” and not only were audience members moved, but the presenters as well.
These presenters represented 35 local and regional groups including, but not limited to, Advocates for Clean Lake Erie, Communication Workers of America, Veterans for Peace, Move to Amend, American Civil Liberties Union, and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality.
Although each group differs in their mission, scope or type of advocacy, Ms. Hamer said, “the beauty of the speech and, of course, Dr. King’s life is that his words show how interconnected everything is.”
“Our goal is to bring together all of the different individuals and groups who are doing this work and i think people could see how their efforts connected with others efforts,” she said.
Ms. Hamer said she already has a number of organizations and people lined up to participate in next year’s event where people will have another chance to network as well as “just feel the connection.”
“We have incredible people in this community who are doing such important work,” she said. “I would organize this everyday if I could.”