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Revelers gather in Ashland Plaza to hear a broadcast of Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech. Jamie Lusch/Mail Tribune

Rogue Valley celebrates Martin Luther King Day

Southern Oregon celebrates the dreams and visions of Martin Luther King Jr. each year. The late civil rights leader’s birthday is a time to remember and a time to renew our community’s commitment to end racism.

“This year’s celebration is based on Dr. King’s legacy and how we can continue to move that message forward,” says Kelsey Franz of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, this year’s lead sponsor for the event. “Our theme is ‘From Then to Now: Empowering the Dream,’ a message as important years ago and just as important today. It really strikes home.”

Ashland’s 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Day festivities will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 21, in the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St.

Kamilah Long, a fundraiser, educator and producer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, will be a keynote speaker at the event. Long’s intent is to empower people to carry on MLK’s essential message of selflessness and sacrifice after they walk out of the armory.

“I think we’re in danger of forgetting Dr. King’s vision every day because there’s so many distractions in the world,” Long says. “He gave up some of his dream so that we could live our dream.”

Rogue Valley educator D.L. Richardson will emcee the Ashland event, keeping live music, song and the spoken word on track. He’s also looking back at the 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

“Have we moved forward? What have we done to continue the dream?” Richardson asks. “We’re thinking about immigration laws, and what’s happening in the country. How are we continuing to empower the dream to make sure that we don’t let that dream die? How can we empower others to move forward?”

About 650 people will crowd into the Ashland Historic Armory to hear the speakers, along with performances by Ashland Peace Choir, Bishop Mayfield Band and the Ashland High School Jazz Band. Crater High School and Ashland School District students will provide some of the pre-show entertainment.

The event will be streamed live at noon at the Varsity Theatre, 166 E. Main St., Ashland, thanks to Rogue Valley Community Television.

Afterward, the Black Student Unions of Southern Oregon University and Ashland High School will lead a short march from the armory to the Ashland Plaza, where King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech will be broadcast.

In 2017, Alexis Phillips, then president of SOU’s Black Student Union, led the march. She remembers the symbolism of the march and its parallels with King’s 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Some 250,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., intent on drawing attention to continuing challenges and inequalities faced by African Americans a century after emancipation. It also was the occasion of King’s iconic speech.

“No justice, no peace” is the chant Phillips recalls clearly at the 2017 celebration in Ashland.

“To be in that position of leading a march going to hear Dr. King’s words, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I led those people here. How far we’ve come and how far we have to go.’ ”

“I think of this as a call to action once a year,” Richardson says. “We say we’re going to do something, so it’s a time to ask, ‘Have we done it?’ It’s a yearly reminder that we have so much work to do, and MLK Day gives us that spark to continue the work.”

“This event really is about being welcoming to all individuals, all beliefs, all backgrounds, all politics to celebrate Dr. King’s true message,” Franz says. “The more we can do that, the more we come together as one community.”

Medford celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20, in the auditorium at Central Medford High School, 815 S. Oakdale St. DJ Gemine Long will emcee the Medford event that recognizes the life and legacy of King with song, speeches and music, asking that all commit to the work still to be done.

Admission to all MLK Day events is free. Donations of nonperishable food to support ACCESS will be accepted.

See somlk.org to find MLK Day on Facebook for any last-minute changes.

Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

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