Anchorage honors Martin Luther King Jr.

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was commemorated on Jan. 16, marking the 20th anniversary of the federal holiday. The city also celebrated the 11th anniversary of “A Day of Service,” when local civil rights organizations sponsor community service projects in honor of King’s legacy.

In Anchorage, the holiday was observed in various ways in many locations. The Martin Luther King Foundation, in partnership with the Municipality of Anchorage and the Anchorage School District, held an observance of the holiday at the Egan Center with guest speaker Gov. Tony Knowles and musical selections from the MLK Citywide Choir.

Celeste Hodge, director and community outreach liaison for the Mayor’s Office of Equal Opportunity, said the event is widely and warmly welcomed each year.

“It’s the largest Martin Luther King celebration in the community and it is attended by a diverse audience,” Hodge said. “It is a way for the community to know that the Municipality is reaching outside of the four city hall walls to celebrate and encourage diversity in Anchorage.”

In addition to the Egan center event, there were events held at the Russian Jack Springs, Fairview, Spenard and Mountain View Community Centers in an effort to gather the local community together to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.

The holiday to honor King carries an additional impact because of Rosa Parks’ passing last year. Her refusal to leave a bus seat for a white passenger in 1955 was a major catalyst for the civil rights movement.

Nancy Beardsley of the Municipality of Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department said that the goal of the activities and service projects held in Anchorage was that of “promoting cultural diversity, non-violence, anti- poverty, health and safety, civil rights through guest speakers and activities for all who attend.”

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Featured activities at the community centers included dancing, food, music, art and sports. Native Olympic youth athletes demonstrated their skills to attendees, a civil rights essay contest was judged and pallets of books were offered to senior citizens in the community.

“We’re trying to pull different cultures together to see what different people can do,” Beardsley said.

Among the several guest speakers invited to attend the events at the Fairview and Mountain View community recreation centers was professor Ronald McGee of UAA. There to deliver his message to young people, McGee noted progress is being made, but said there are still needs and standards not being met, as well as more work to be done.

“We have some people who are achieving tremendous things,” said McGee. “And then we have some people being left behind on opportunities and advancements available to others.”

Deanna Cintas, volunteer coordinator for Nine Star Enterprises, a community service organization chartered by the State of Alaska that operates in Anchorage as a private, non-profit corporation, said she could not agree more.

“Poverty, education, racial unity, acceptance, tolerance, pride and the need for resources to make our dreams a reality are still at the forefront of every lifestyle, community and social standard today,” Cintas said.

She said she hopes the impact of the activities will last longer than just one day.

“I would hope each person to participate in any part of the day’s events would leave with a new spark of social activism, and that they would continue to serve their communities and not wait for another holiday such as this one to give back to others,” Cintas said.

With the passage of time and the progress of civil rights in America, the holiday has grown to become more than just a celebration of King himself. Organizers also seek to celebrate his message.

“Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve,” King said, and that message of service is the one community and church leaders are honoring today, especially in light of the recent tragic events the world has suffered.

“Across the globe we see people living in poverty-some devastated by natural disasters such as the tsunami and hurricanes and some who have no disaster to attribute their situation to,” Cintas said. “Messages of hope and perseverance are needed now more than ever. With each new generation a new fire is brought to the world, a fire that can spread like wild and truly produce some positive change.”