Holding onto hope — even when things appear darkest — was a key aspect of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message at the height of the struggle for civil rights in the 1950s and ’60s, says local civil rights icon Oralene Simmons. And that notion still rings true today, more than 50 years after King’s death, she adds.
“We are still dealing with some of the things that Dr. King talked about in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and other things that he advocated for. You might not recognize them, the way that you did some years ago,” Simmons says. “Some of the dynamics have changed, but those same concerns are still there.
Asheville’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast — which Simmons founded in 1982 — kicks off a weeklong celebration of King’s life and legacy at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 18. Held at the Crowne Plaza Resort, the breakfast (which is sold out) will feature Joy DeGruy, author of Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing. More information is available at avl.mx/6u0.
If you didn’t manage to secure a ticket to the prayer breakfast, never fear: Opportunities to honor King are planned throughout Western North Carolina.
Sunday, Jan. 19
- Asheville Poetry Series and poet Kevin Evans present the I Have A Dream Slam-Jam at The BLOCK Off Biltmore in downtown Asheville. Starting at 5 p.m., the event will include a partial reading of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech followed by original poetry from local artists. Tickets are $5 to attend, $10 to perform. More information at avl.mx/6ue.
Monday, Jan. 20
- A peace march and rally presented by the The Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County (which also produces the prayer breakfast) will begin with an 11:30 a.m. service at the former Berry Temple United Methodist Church at 34 College Place in Asheville. Following the program, participants will march to City County Plaza, where speakers will address themes of justice and peace. The event is free and open to the public. More information at avl.mx/6u1.
- The MLK Association will hold a candlelight service at the Central United Methodist Church at 27 Church St. at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. More information at avl.mx/6u2.
- Western Carolina University will hold a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March 11 a.m.-1 p.m. The march will begin at the Central Plaza fountain near the alumni tower and is open to students, faculty, staff and community members. More information at avl.mx/6u3.
- Asheville GreenWorks will hold an MLK Jr. Day of Service roadside cleanup in the historic East End/Valley Street neighborhood 10-11:30 a.m. Prior to the cleanup, Renée White, president of the East End/Valley Street Neighborhood Association, will speak about the history and importance of the neighborhood. More information at avl.mx/6u7.
- Following a community potluck at 5 p.m., Kenilworth Presbyterian Church, 123 Kenilworth Road, hosts Environmental Injustice: Race, Class and Climate Change. William Barber III, co-chair for the N.C. Poor People’s Campaign’s Ecological Devastation committee, will be the keynote speaker. For more information, contact Katie Adams at 828-273-3747 or visit avl.mx/6ud.
- Asheville Poetry Series presents an MLK Day reading, featuring guest speaker Barbara Milford and poets Kevin Evans and Caleb Beissert. Members of the public can share poems and thoughts on King and his teachings during the open mic portion of the event. Suggested donation is $5 at door. More information at avl.mx/6uf.
- Blue Ridge Community College will hold a Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Technology Education and Development Center. Vergel L. Lattimore III, president and professor of pastoral psychology and counseling at Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, North Carolina, will be the keynote speaker. More information at avl.mx/6uk.
Tuesday, Jan. 21
- Western Carolina University’s Black Student Union presents Let’s Talk Colorism, Speak and Paint from 6 -8 p.m. at the University Center Grandroom. While painting, students will hear from the BSU on building strong communities for people of color. More information at avl.mx/6u3.
- UNC Asheville will feature a keynote address by the award-winning journalist, author and civil rights pioneer Charlayne Hunter-Gault. The event begins at 7 p.m. in the Highsmith Student Union Blue Ridge Room. Hunter-Gault will also lead a master class at 4 p.m. in Highsmith Room 228. More information at avl.mx/6u4.
Wednesday, Jan. 22
- Oralene Simmons, founder of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, will speak on Western Carolina University’s 2020 King celebration theme, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy of Connection: The Story of U.S. The event takes place at WCU’s Bardo Performing Arts Center 7- 9 p.m. More information at avl.mx/6u3.
- UNC Asheville will present a screening of Always in Season, a documentary film from director/producer Jacqueline Olive on the history of lynching in America, 7-9 p.m. at the Highsmith Student Union Grotto. More information at avl.mx/6u5.
Thursday, Jan. 23
- Western Carolina University presents Indivisible Not Invisible: Focus on Mental Health for Poor, Marginalized and People of Color, 6-8 p.m. at WCU’s University Center Multipurpose Room. More information at avl.mx/6u3.
- Cortina Caldwell, founder and creative director for Artists Designing Evolution, will lead Why We March. How We March: The Culture of Organizing and Community Building. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. at UNC Asheville’s Highsmith Student Union Mountain Suite. More information at avl.mx/6u4.
Tuesday, Jan. 28
- Memphis-born poet and novelist Arthur Flowers will present Literary Blues and the Hoodoo Way – In the Footsteps of MLK. Starting at 7 p.m in UNC Asheville’s Highsmith Student Union Blue Ridge Room, the performance will also feature opening music by UNC Asheville’s Afro Music and Dance Ensemble. More information at avl.mx/6u4.