New look for services this year, but Metro Detroiters committed to honoring King's legacy

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Southfield — When it comes to honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Neely Allen believes it's important to not hang with her friends but to take the opportunity to stand for justice.

So on this brisk Monday morning, the 16-year-old sat in the back seat of a vehicle driven by her mom, waiting to give thanks for King's ultimate sacrifice for civil rights for Black Americans on a national holiday in his honor.

The Rev. Dr. Ted Whitely of Southfield reads a program while waiting for the start of the Driving for Justice car parade at Hope United Methodist Church  in Southfield.

"It's a really big yearly reminder to keep fighting and there's a lot of work that we have to do," said Allen. "Usually my friends will want to hang out because we don't have school but I have to remind them that I have obligations."

The annual event, which normally features a walk for King, was the "Driving for Justice" parade in vehicles this year, snaking through Southfield and Oak Park as drivers and their passengers honor the slain civil rights leader. Vehicles were scheduled to gather at Hope United Methodist Church with a virtual program after the drive.

Southfield's first peace walk in King's honor was held Jan. 20, 1986, the first observance of the national holiday.

A sign hangs on a car as drivers are lined up before a Driving for Justice parade from Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield, Monday,  January 18, 2021.

Allen's mother, Angel Allen, 45, said the family has been going each year to the event, "so COVID wasn't going to stop us."

"We didn't want this day to be a wasted day. We want to get out and make a difference," she said. "But I also want to teach my children the importance of taking a stand, walking and participating in what you believe in."

Angel Allen said she wants her kids to know that they are "valued, that they represent more than the color of their skin and that they need to show people how they want to be treated."

Danette Mitchell of Detroit, a member of the Rooadmasters Corvette Club, hands out programs before a Driving for Justice parade from Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield, Monday,  January 18, 2021.

David Coulter, the Oakland County executive, also took part in the drive and said he participates every year for the reminder "that justice is still an issue in this country."

"We're not there yet, and Dr. King's words remind us every day that we have more to do to make this a more just society," Coulter said. "The important thing is that we don't just do this on Martin Luther King Day. Dr. King isn't the great exception but he's the great example of what we can do every day."

Southfield Police Chief Elvin Barren said Dr. King and all civil rights leaders are owed "respect" and that his legacy "is never forgotten."

"They paved the way for us to gain equality and justice," he said. "When you talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., just the sacrifice he made because he made the ultimate sacrifice in his efforts to try and bring justice and equality."

Southfield police lead the Driving For Justice caravan down Civic Center Drive from Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield, Monday,  January 18, 2021.

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