More than four decades have passed since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. This time gap means younger generations have grown up without knowing the civil rights leader at the pinnacle of his time. For some, King is in danger of becoming little more than an anecdote in a history book and a name attached to a Monday in January.
Paul Looney and other members of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Realizing the Dream committee are taking several measures to prevent that, including the Realizing the Dream Concert this Saturday at the Moody Music Building’s concert hall. The committee will also hold the SCLC and Realizing the Dream Legacy Banquet at Hotel Capstone on Friday, and they will take part in several SCLC events on Monday to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Looney, retired director of development for Shelton State, said the committee’s theme this year was “Realizing the Dream Then and Now,” and that theme was born out of concern for the next generation.
“What brought this theme about was, when the committee began to realize that so many young people were not even born when MLK was alive, we thought it would be interesting to have a comparison of the point of view of youngsters in relation to Dr. King’s speeches at the time when he was alive,” Looney said.
The concert will feature youth in several capacities, said Samory Pruitt, UA vice president for community affairs.
“We’ve got K-12 and students from Stillman, Shelton State and the University,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got some students that are serving as hosts and some who are providing entertainment. Hopefully they’ll be able to see the values of a just and fair society, which is something that King advocated for and is something they will also strive for in their lives.”
Pruitt said Saturday’s festivities celebrating the Crimson Tide’s 13th national football championship were unlikely to either help or hurt the Realizing the Dream events.
“I think Tuscaloosa and the West Alabama area can support multiple events,” Pruitt said.
“I think the history of the MLK event keeps people coming year after year. Some people who are here for the celebration may come, but I think most of the folks who attend the concert will come from that core following from Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas.”
Looney said, in the past, the concert has featured well-established speakers and performers. The event’s Web site lists such celebrities as Maya Angelou, Sidney Poitier and James Earl Jones among the featured performers of the concert’s past. Looney said the focus would shift this year because of the emphasis on youth.
“The idea is, we wanted to try to feature this year emerging artists,” Looney said. “If you look at the past, we’ve had a number of well-established stars in this production. This year we wanted to feature young artists who were up and coming. We’re trying to arrange the program so we can showcase a wide range of talent.”
The concert is not without an established artist at the forefront, however. Belinda-George Peoples has performed on national television in Sweden and has also performed in Valencia, Spain. Peoples has also performed with the Alabama symphony Orchestra, and she has appeared in several Birmingham productions with the Red Mountain Theatre Company, including “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Big River” and “Sophisticated Ladies.”
“She’s very talented,” Looney said. “She’s sung nationally and internationally. We think the audience will enjoy hearing her perform.”
The evening will also feature readings of King’s most famous speeches, readings of President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination and excerpts from Kevin Powell’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day speech from January 2008.
“It’s a pretty full evening, but the evening will flow very smoothly,” Looney said.
What: SCLC and Realizing the Dream Legacy Banquet Where: Hotel Capstone When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15 Tickets: $25 each or $150 per table
What: 21st Annual Realizing the Dream Concert Where: Moody Music Building, Concert Hall When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16 Tickets: $15, call 348-7111 for more information
SCLC Unity Day Event Schedule Unity Breakfast: Beulah Family Life Center, 7 a.m. Unity March: Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, noon Mass Rally: First African Baptist Church, 6 p.m.