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.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.