Every year, West Hawaii residents and visitors come together joyfully to remember a prominent civil rights leader and appreciate the impact he had in America.
Held in the Old Kona Airport Park’s Makaeo Events Pavilion, the 33rd annual community birthday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave people a place to reflect on the progress made toward equality and kinship. It also showcased the importance of community.
King’s birthday is Jan. 15, but the federal holiday bearing his name is observed today — on the third Monday in January.
The Baptist minister from Alabama is celebrated as the driving force in America’s civil rights movement, using love, God and nonviolence as the cornerstones of his messages. King is best remembered for the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955; the 1957 Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which organized marches for blacks’ right to vote, desegregation and labor laws; and the Great March on Washington in 1963 where he gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. Before his assassination in 1968, King was committed to ending poverty and speaking out against the Vietnam War.
Sunday’s celebration included reflections, readings, music, dancing, prayer, art, poetry and a potluck lunch. In this spirited remembrance of King’s life, the organizers and participants hoped to inspire community action for common good and for dreams to be made real. For some, it was also a way to display their hope that love, justice and acceptance reigns no matter the obstacle or circumstance.
Ocean View resident Maudie Rosenbloom, 70, was in high school when she first heard about King and his efforts to achieve racial equality in America. While attending North Carolina Central University, she had the opportunity to hear him speak. What impressed her most about King was how he used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance to achieve at the time seemingly impossible goals and make genuine progress. She also appreciated how King drew inspiration from his faith and Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful teachings for his movement.
“Dr. King’s movement impacted this country in a positive way. He encouraged all of us to keep faith, stay positive and move forward, always with the understanding and principle that everyone everywhere are equal,” Rosenbloom said. “It’s important for young people to remember and understand what this pioneer in America’s history achieved and changed. This is more than just another federal holiday. It’s a chance to keep alive the impacts he made and emphasize them with gratitude while also talking about what contributions we hope to make in that same spirit and sense of equality for everyone.”
In 1982, the late Frank Bramlett Jr. came up with the idea of celebrating King’s birthday in Kailua-Kona. He brought together 15 people and held the first celebration on the beach at Old Kona Airport Park. He wanted to keep King’s dream alive, as well as keep the public’s attention on the monumental contributions King had made to humanity through his nonviolent, peaceful demonstration for quality and justice for everyone, regardless of race, creed, religion or color.
Thirty-three years later, this event drew more than 200 attendees Sunday. It was organized by a dedicated all-volunteer planning committee, which included Rosenbloom, Kathy Simmons, Charles Sermon, Victor McDaniel, Oscar Friels, Virginia Halliday, Joan Jackson, Dinah Magee, Ernest and Geri Young, Carol Conner, Julie Campbell, Mamie Bramlett and Binti Bailey. A moment of silence was held for the late Kawika Marquez, a community activist who supported and promoted several community events, including this one as a committee member.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie was scheduled to make a public appearance at the event, according to a press release sent last week from his office. However, he did not show. Instead, Barbara Dalton, the governor’s West Hawaii liaison, read a special message, which began by saying the governor was “terribly sorry” that he couldn’t join in the birthday celebration honoring King’s work and life.
Abercrombie did not know King, but worked many years in Washington, D.C. with Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, one of the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights movement.
“In his recent book, ‘Across That Bridge,’ John describes how, at age 15, he heard Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio, preaching about our responsibility to respond to injustice,” Abercrombie’s message stated. “These words delivered to John a message he had prayed to hear, a message consistent with his own dream to ‘see the power of love manifest … to see hate eradicated and wrong made right.’
“The power of this message subsequently guided John without fear through many tense encounters in the struggle for equality,” Abercrombie stated. “This message is as compelling today as it was in the 1960s. It provides us with a moral compass for our words and actions. As Dr. King observed in his transcendent ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, ‘we must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.’ In this new year, let us be guided by the dignity and discipline of which Dr. King spoke more than 50 years ago.”