Hundreds of people gathered at Tennessee State University’s Gentry Center Complex on Monday to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
Several city and state leaders spoke at the MLK convocation ceremony, including U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, state Rep. Harold Love and Metro Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph, where the theme of the program was “What’s Next … Power in Progress.”
This program served as the culminating event to the MLK March down Jefferson Street.
Just a few days before the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, many people expressed that this program had a different meaning and should serve as a poignant way to bring people together again.
“This a day of values that we should celebrate all year long. We’ve got to get along with each other. We are the greatest country on Earth, but that’s when we are united,” Cooper said. “There is a lot of division in the country now, a lot of anger, a lot of upset and hurt, but let’s get together and understand each other.”
Barry quoted parts of King’s speeches, stressing the need to fight for equality, opportunity, and jobs for Nashville’s youth.
“We also have to make sure to invoke and embolden Dr. King’s words,” Barry said. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. None of us can be silent. Let us all be on the right side of history as history unfolds.”
Many speakers called for a change in the contentious political climate. Their words were met with loud applause.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the greatest leaders and he preached racial harmony,” said Rep. Cooper. “He said it’s not the color of your skin, it’s the content of your character, and I hope everybody gets that message.”
The keynote speaker, educator and activist, Brittany Packnett presented a closely related charge to the crowd, as she admonished the contentious political and racial climate surrounding the election of Donald Trump.
“It’s critically important that we remember that we have a task ahead of us that is not about the next four years,” Packnett said.
“It’s about always, and in always ensuring that we pursue justice until we actually fully achieve it. The last thing to remember is if we’re going to win, we have to do it together. It can’t be about one group or the other but ultimately, freedom will require all of us and none of us are free until all of us are free and we have to work together to make this thing happen.”
For some who lived and fought through the civil rights movement, speaking truth to power can sometimes mean facing uncomfortable realities.
“From this day, we need go understanding that none of us have not arrived to where we think we are,” said Rev. Troy Merritt, Presiding Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Nashville. “There will always be struggles.”
Merritt was born and raised in Nashville. He now presides as elder over more than a dozen A.M.E. churches in Middle Tennessee. He did not attend Monday’s march, but chose the ceremony. He did his marching in the 1960s, where he decided to follow non-violence in his protests as a student in Nashville.
“It was traumatic in the ’60s,” Merritt said. “All of our lives in the black community were in jeopardy. Violence was a threat every day so we found refuge in our own schools.”
Young students from across the city said they came to listen and be inspired.
Packnett said she hopes that the audience focuses less on her words and more on their daily actions to make the community a more inclusive and welcoming for all.
This was just one of several events and service activities that were held across the city of Nashville.
About 600 people in East Nashville started their day running in the 3rd Annual 5K Run/Walk For MLK Day at the East Park Community Center. The event raises money for Barefoot Republic Camp, which works to bring people together from different backgrounds.
The 16th Annual MLK Day Fellowship Breakfast was held at the Music City Center on Monday morning. This year’s keynote speaker was former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, a man who marched along with Martin Luther King Jr. himself.