King's legacy a call to action for Metro Detroiters

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Gatherings and activities across southeast Michigan on Monday honored the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., with participants vowing to continue the work of the slain civil rights leader.

Members of the Martin Luther King High School Dance Workshop perform Monday night at the Fox.

"The dream that Martin Luther King had is only meaningful if we force action based on that dream," U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence told a crowd of hundreds at Detroit's Fox Theatre. "This is is not a time for us to dream. This is a time for action."

The importance of remaining committed to the movement King advanced more than 50 years ago was a central theme for the Let Freedom Ring Awards that Lawrence, other public officials and the public attended.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence

Led by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, which civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson founded, the event recognized four Michiganians cited as furthering King's vision. 

Among the recipients was U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., the longest serving African American member of Congress in U.S. history who died in October at age 90. He received the inaugural Legacy Award for his efforts that led to creation of the King national holiday.

In introducing the award, the Rev. JoAnn Watson, a former Detroit City Council member, noted Conyers was a reverent ally of King, and he was the only elected official to earn the civil right leader’s endorsement.

“We owe much to this hero,” she said.

Also receiving an award in the Journalistic Leadership category was The Detroit News' late editor and publisher, Jonathan Wolman, who died in April at age 68 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was honored for "a strong sense of ethics and humanity, as evidenced by his support of Fannie Lou Hamer's voting rights campaign in Mississippi that got thousands of African Americans registered to vote," organizers said. 

Journalism “was a way for him to shine a light on injustice and inequality,” said his wife, Deborah Lamm, when accepting the award.

Other honorees were Maureen Taylor, chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, "who for decades has spiritedly championed worthy causes for low-income families"; and UAW President Rory Gamble, the first African American to lead the labor union, organizers said.

When presented her award, Taylor drew applause for a passionate call to address water shutoffs, health care access, affordable housing and a sustainable environment.

"Even today, we still have issues connected to an entire class of people not having enough resources to make ends need," she said. "The cost of living is going up; the chances of living are going down."

In opening remarks, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, whose late husband, John Dingell, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history and championed civil rights legislation, lamented the current conditions in the country.

While King embraced love, the Dearborn Democrat said, "this country is being torn apart by fear and hatred. We are being divided by hatred and we must stand up to it."

Jackson cautioned that with ongoing struggles related to voting rights and economic disparity, simply admiring King was not enough to spark change.

"To have a passive celebration about King misses the point," Jackson said, suggesting that if the leader had lived, he would be seeking to register voters.

King's memory sparked other celebrations across the region Monday.

In Southfield, marchers turned out in freezing temperatures for the city's 35th annual MLK Peace Walk down Civic Center Drive.

Lisa Leslie receives an Oakland University Grizzlies basketball jersey from the O.U. women's basketball team during the 28th annual Keeper of the Dream celebration, for which Leslie was keynote speaker.

At Oakland University in Rochester, Olympic gold medalist and former WNBA star Lisa Leslie spoke and received a jersey from members of the school's women's basketball team during Oakland University's 28th annual Keeper of the Dream celebration.

And in Ypsilanti, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke at Eastern Michigan University's MLK Luncheon and Award Ceremony, where she received the school's EMU MLK Humanitarian Award.

Little Rock Nine member Terrence Roberts, speaks during the "Rise Up Against Injustice" President's luncheon in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Also speaking was Terrence Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine who desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957.