Twenty years have passed since President Ronald Reagan signed legislation to create a national holiday celebrating the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
The bill triggered deep divisions when it was signed into law, but many now commemorate King by participating in a day of celebration and community service.
The University hosted its annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Saturday, with a concert titled “Realizing the Dream: Then and Now.” The concert at Moody Music Hall showcased a variety of songs and dances, along with excerpts from King’s speeches, for an audience of more than 600.
“What we really wanted to do this year was to bridge generations,” said DoVeanna Fulton Minor, chair of the department of gender and race studies. “We wanted to bring some emerging voices to the program, and demonstrate how Dr. King’s work towards social justice has been contemporized by generations now removed from the actual Civil Rights Movement.”
Minor said she recognizes that King’s work isn’t finished, and that his teachings should live on.
“I think that one thing we need to do is to consistently educate younger generations about the work of Dr. King and the historical significance of the Civil Rights Movement, but also put it into context that they can recognize and that speaks to them,” Minor said.
On Friday, the Realizing the Dream Committee, comprised of students and faculty from UA, Stillman College, and Shelton State Community College, held its annual Legacy Banquet to honor individuals for work that furthers King’s ideals.
Dozens of projects and celebrations also took place across West Alabama. Different branches of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference held unity breakfasts, freedom marches and rallies, and churches paid tribute to King with worship services.
Hundreds marched three miles from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School to the Tuscaloosa City Hall to celebrate King’s life.
In 1994, Congress designated the holiday as a national day of service, asking people of all ethnic backgrounds to work together to make a difference in their communities. In addition, King’s philosophies toward social equality created the driving force behind volunteering as a way to improve society.
This year’s holiday goes along with President Obama’s United We Serve initiative. The program was established to help meet the growing social needs resulting from the economic downturn, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.
The day of service gained its greatest participation last year when President Obama encouraged all Americans to volunteer during his inauguration. As a result, more than 1 million people served in all 50 states.
“I try to give my time whenever I get the chance,” Johnna Dominguez, a junior majoring in classics and early modern studies, said. “To make a big impact on the world, you need to start in your communities. It’s really important to help any way you can, she said.