One woman had a dream; local MLK Jr events are now 31 years old

Thirty-one years ago, Oralene Simmons thought the City of Asheville should do something to honor the memory of Dr. King. At the time, she was the director of the Montford Community Center, and wondered if she could proceed with her plan.

As a city employee, she was concerned about how the program might be perceived, so she consulted with her supervisor, Leslie Anderson, on the appropriateness of holding such an event in a city facility. Anderson was enthusiastic, so Simmons shared her idea for an MLK breakfast with long-time friend Wanda Coleman, director of the YMI Cultural Center, who lent her $50 to purchase food. Simmons also enlisted the Baha’i Community, which made posters announcing the breakfast. She also placed a notice in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Though the day of the breakfast was a chilly, snowy Saturday morning in 1982, some 75 people came from all over the city. Fortunately, the article in the newspaper had been read by Phyllis Sherrill, who hurried in to the community center that morning and started stirring and cooking eggs. With such support and such a turnout, what could have been a one-time, one-woman show became the seed of today’s celebration.

Now, 31 years later, Simmons still honors the dream. The celebration has become a tradition in Asheville, as well as other towns in Western North Carolina. Simmons is now working to start a center for non-violent conflict resolution, based on the ideals of Dr. King.


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