Bellevue College celebrates MLK Day

By Brook Stallings.
On January 15, over 300 members of the BC community gathered at Carlson Hall to celebrate Martin Luther King’s life and legacy. The two-hour-long event, entitled “Preserving a Dream, Upholding a Vision,” marked what would have been King’s 80th birthday. The event included guest speakers Dr. Carver Gayton and Daryl Grigsby, a multimedia presentation about King, and a performance by the BC Concert Choir. Gayton retired as executive director of the Northwest African American Museum in July 2008. He spoke about the history of the civil rights movement in America, beginning with late 19th century segregation laws that he called a system of apartheid in the United States. The civil rights movement began as a reaction to these laws. King rose to leadership in the civil rights movement during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, he advocated nonviolent protest in the civil rights struggle. In 1961, Gayton was a 21-year-old teacher at Garfield High School. King came to Seattle that September and was asked to speak about the situation in the South. In those days, the public feared King as a revolutionary figure. “There was not one organization in the city of Seattle that wanted him to speak in any venue. The First Baptist Church of Seattle turned him down. The city of Seattle turned him down,” Gayton said. Garfield High School invited King to speak, and Gayton was invited to meet him afterwards. “This powerful speaker, this giant of a man — unbelievable voice — [was] very small in stature, didn’t come across as a domineering type whatsoever,” Gayton said. What he remembered and thought about afterwards were King’s eyes. They held a sadness that reflected the great burdens on King, but they also held a deep commitment. Gayton said that civil rights leaders in the 1960’s never believed they would see a black president in their lifetimes. Grigsby is a writer, historian, theologian, and community leader in Seattle. He spoke to the second part of the title of the event, “Upholding a Vision.” King’s vision was constantly changing. Today, King would be pushing us forward towards social justice, Grigsby said. King began fighting desegregation in the South, then in the North. He spoke out against the Vietnam war and was called a traitor by the Washington Post. He then spoke out on economic injustice. At the time of his assassination, King was planning a “Poor People’s March on Washington.” King always put people first. “The focus and center of his vision for change was always an emphasis on individual people,” Grigsby said. People always came before profits. King’s vision was not easy. He was not loved in his lifetime by most Americans, and he was depressed at his last speech. Grigsby’s study of civil rights leaders informs him that most never saw the change they were trying to achieve in their lifetimes. They didn’t give up, and the change they worked for finally came, though sometimes long after they had died. Dr. Atta Karim said he wants to use Martin Luther King week as the launch of a year of social justice. We should reach out to groups that may not feel welcome, and turn our good intentions into actions, he said. Tom Almli’s Concert Choir sang two songs. The second piece was a choral arrangement of the song “MLK” by U2. After the song ended, there were several seconds of complete silence before the applause began.