Story and Photos provided by Stillwater Public Library
The life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be celebrated with a two-day event organized by Stillwater Community United (SCU), Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Oklahoma State University Division of Institutional Diversity, City of Stillwater, and the Stillwater Public Library. “United: Looking Back, Moving Forward,” takes place January 20-21 and includes a film screening, songwriting contest, march, and community commemoration.
According to Aundrea Jackson, OSU African American Student Association officer, this year’s MLK Day theme focuses attention on learning the past and then using that knowledge to create a more just tomorrow.
“Looking back and moving forward are important,” said Jackson. “‘Sankofa’ is a term I’ve learned that means in order to move forward, one must look back. I think that’s entirely true. In order to know where we want to go, we must first look at where we have been.”
Longtime Stillwater resident Kay Stewart agrees that remembering the past is important and can help communities move forward, especially when citizens work to understand the past as it was for everyone. For Stewart, that begins with listening.
“Many of our problems exist today because we are not willing to listen—really listen—to one another,” said Stewart. “We don’t give ‘the other’ the opportunity to share their story. We will have a chance of unity only when we are willing to commit to compassionate listening—to giving each person the opportunity to tell their own story, explaining where they are coming from, how they got to this point and what they have to offer in moving our society forward.”
Both Jackson and Stewart will be featured speakers at the MLK Jr. community commemoration event which takes place Monday, January 21. They will be joined by Earl Mitchell, the first African American tenure-track faculty member at OSU, former president of Payne County NAACP and chair of the Oklahoma State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Mitchell is currently working on preserving and acknowledging the history of Progress, Oklahoma, which was a black community complete with a school, church, and cemetery that predated Oklahoma statehood and from which many of Stillwater’s original settlers came.
“Acknowledging this past is important,” said Mitchell. “People of color have always been part of the Stillwater community but they have never been mentioned in its history. Though they have contributed through their work, they have not been remembered.
“We don’t want to live in the past, but acknowledge it. It’s important to know and understand the contributions of the pillars of the black community in Stillwater so we can be proud of those contributions.”
Valuing the contributions and lives of all people, regardless of the color of their skin, was part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. “United: Looking Back, Moving Forward” is an opportunity for all area residents to join together in promoting that dream—hearing the stories, honoring the contributions of those in the African American community and moving towards a more united future.
Events kick off on Sunday, January 20 at 2:00 p.m. with a screening of the film “Black Panther” in the Stillwater Public Library auditorium. The blockbuster film, rated PG-13, tells the story of the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda, complete with Marvel superhero Black Panther. A discussion following the film will focus on how the themes of the film relate to how people remember history and what they envision for the future. Popcorn and soft drinks will be provided.
The following day at 6:30 p.m., activities continue with a unity march starting at the Stillwater Public Library and leading to the Stillwater Community Center, two blocks away. The commemoration will begin at 7:00 p.m. and includes music, singing, keynote speakers, and refreshments.
In addition, winners of the new MLK Jr. songwriting contest will perform the winning song at the event. All songwriters, regardless of age, interested in honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King are encouraged to enter the contest.
Entries, including a CD or digital recording of the song, lyric sheet, and entry form, can be submitted via email to email@example.com or delivered to the Stillwater Public Library by 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 10. Guidelines and entry forms are available on the library website at http://library.stillwater.org/mlk_day.php. All MLK Jr. Day events and related activities are free and open to the public. For more information, visit the Library’s webpage at http://library.stillwater.org.