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Is Phoenix Doing Enough to Honor and Celebrate Martin Luther King?

King speaking to an anti-Vietnam war rally at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul on April 27, 1967
King speaking to an anti-Vietnam war rally at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul on April 27, 1967
via wikimedia

Editor's Note: In the weeks leading up to Martin Luther King Day, we've searched for events happening in Metro Phoenix and came up relatively empty handed. (If you know of interesting and educational MLK celebrations, we encourage you to leave details in the comments section). ASU will host an MLK poster and essay exhibition through January 31 and a rally on January 24, the City of Phoenix will host its annual MLK Breakfast , and Mesa will host a festival at the Mesa Arts Center. But some community members think Phoenix can do more.

Ada Martin is an adjunct professor and senior instructional developer at University of Phoenix. She recently made a comment about her own plans for MLK day on Facebook and we asked her to explain.

Monday is Martin Luther King Day in Phoenix and some of you are looking forward to sleeping in, lounging around in your pajamas and catching up on your favorite shows but if you are like me, you are actually looking, or should I say, scrambling for meaningful ways to honor the legacy of Dr. King.

See also: - Five Must-Attend Lectures in Phoenix This January - Online Artifacts at the King Center

King giving a lecture on March 26, 1964
King giving a lecture on March 26, 1964
via wikimedia

If you live in a big city like San Francisco or New York, consider yourself fortunate because you have something we don't: choices! You probably have an assortment of activities to choose from without having to drive across country to find something worthwhile; but if you live in the state of Arizona, finding meaningful things to do can be like finding car keys in a woman's purse.

For many of you it will come as no surprise that choices are limited here, as Arizona has always had a hate-hate relationship with the day. Those of you unfamiliar with Phoenix's history with MLK day, in 1983, 15 years after the death of the slain civil rights leader, then-president Ronald Reagan signed federal legislation into effect to create a holiday honoring Dr. King. It was not celebrated officially until January in 1986, and at that time, only 27 states recognized the holiday.

Arizona in particular, thanks to resistance from people such as Arizona Sen. John McCain (who later supported the holiday), is famous for being one of the states that voted against the bill. Finally, in 1992, Arizona did a "solid" and decided that Martin Luther King Jr., a man who sacrificed his life for the betterment of our country, was indeed worthy of having his own day and they officially recognized the holiday.

So, with that in mind, let me share with you my difficulty with celebrating MLK Day in our fair state.

Last year my husband and I got up bright and early eager to celebrate the day, and we researched family friendly MLK events on the web. We live in the West Valley, so the only celebration remotely close to our house was in Phoenix at Margaret T. Hance Park. We packed up the car with our two small children and we started our trek into the city.

 

King at a Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C.
King at a Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C.
via wikimedia

My husband is from Detroit, and I am from New York, so perhaps our expectations were irrational, because we went to the celebration expecting to be informed. We hoped for multicultural activities/performances for the children, and speeches educating the public about Dr. King and his accomplishments, but honestly, we were underwhelmed.

Instead we found a bunch of ill-conceived booths sparsely set up, having little or nothing to do with Dr. King. For the kids there was a group of sad bouncy houses in the corner of the park, and there was a stage for viewing awful hip hop/dance performances. But at no time, shockingly, was there any real mention of why we were all gathered in this place; we left the park feeling gypped. On the way home my daughter cried, "Was that it?" So I took out my iPhone, did some research, found another celebration in Mesa, and we journeyed east.

The celebration in Mesa was a little bit better (not much). They, too, had booths set up selling bad Bob Marley printed t-shirts and funky incense. There were food trucks serving things like funnel cake and Indian fry bread. Up and coming young artists were featured on center stage doing off-key performances of bad pop music. Yet again we left feeling empty, having provided our children with no additional insight into the meaning of the day.

It would be great if Phoenix could provide more substantive, big city options. Growing up in New York City I was privileged to attend a school, Manhattan Country School, where civil rights was at the forefront of our learning experience. Every year, the school holds a MLK march with a civil rights inspired theme. Students do a short march in the city and during the march they stop at special points of interest to deliver speeches that they have written about today's civil rights issues.

This year's march is titled, "In 25 Years: Reflecting on the Civil Rights Struggles of the Past, Looking toward Justice for Tomorrow." It would be great if a local school in the area could sponsor such an event.

So rather than be disappointed again, this year we have decided to put the events of MLK Days past behind us and we will be hosting an MLK Day brunch at our house. There will be special activities for the kids, grown folks' beverages for the adults, and we will sit around and listen to Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speeches; in our way we will try to keep his memory alive.

Despite living in Arizona, we feel confident that our children will know who Dr. King is, because that's how we roll, but I worry for my kids' friends. Will their parents also take an active role in their children's civil rights education? Will they have any idea why they have the day off from school?

If they attend any of the limited events around town, will that bring them any additional insight? And then another part of me just thinks DAMNNNN, it's 2013, why can't Arizona do better? It saddens me that to educate our children we have to generate a separate celebration in our home, when in reality Dr. King's message is a profound one that really should be shared with the masses.

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