Photo Credit: Johnnie Lee Early

http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2016/01/19/MLK-speaker-calls-for-justice-for-all.html

Photo Credit: Johnnie Lee Early

To celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, speakers and performers emphasized social justice and activism during the annual celebration at the University of Toledo.

It was the 15th anniversary of the city and UT’s partnership to host the Martin Luther King, Jr., Unity Celebration at Savage Arena. This year’s theme was “Justice for All.”

The keynote speaker, the Rev. Cori Bush, has been on the front lines of protests in Ferguson, Mo. She told the 2,000 people in attendance about her work and called for young people in Toledo to get involved in the fight for justice.

The two-hour program featured nods to history, both recent and more distant. Members of a Toledo School for the Arts creative writing class performed a spoken word poem that traced civil rights milestones, including the March on Washington and the Montgomery bus boycott.

IN PICTURES: Martin Luther King, Jr., Unity Celebration

Later, Toledo group Justice or Else All-Stars performed a song and chanted names of black men and women killed by police, including Tamir Rice and Mike Brown. They sang a chorus of “say his name” and “say her name,” in reference to the hashtags used on social media after many of these deaths.

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The Rev. Cori Bush of Florissant, Mo., in her keynote address during the unity celebration, urged young people in Toledo to get involved in the fight for justice. The Rev. Cori Bush of Florissant, Mo., in her keynote address during the unity celebration, urged young people in Toledo to get involved in the fight for justice.
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During the performance, they held signs with messages such as “End Police Brutality” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Ms. Bush lauded Monday’s program for its inclusion of so many young performers and emphasis on activism.

She then recounted her experience protesting in Ferguson after the August, 2014, killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, and later after a grand jury’s decision not to indict Mr. Wilson.

“We felt voiceless; we didn’t know what to do to be heard,” Ms. Bush said. “There was no script, there was no instruction book for us.”

Ms. Bush, a pastor at St. Louis-area’s Kingdom Embassy International and a registered nurse, spoke passionately about using religious and medical healing in Ferguson. She told the audience to “accept the uncomfortable” and “validate the voiceless.”

“The apathy and complacency we allow in our community are on the side of the oppressor,” she said. “Are we teaching our young people the truth? Are we giving them the platform to speak their experiences? And then if we give them the platform, do we validate their voices?”

The theme of justice for all means “empowering everyday people to change the world,” she said, which is what she saw in Ferguson.

“We were everyday people who wanted to see justice,” she said. “So we questioned, we shouted, we cried, we sang, we prayed, we yelled.” The police, she said, “They yelled, they threatened, they bullied, they beat, they stomped, they arrested, they hogtied and tear-gassed us.”

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Shirley L. Smith of Toledo applauds the speech of the Rev. Cori Bush of Florissant, Mo., who gave the keynote address at the University of Toledo and the city’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Unity Celebration at UT’s Savage Arena. Shirley L. Smith of Toledo applauds the speech of the Rev. Cori Bush of Florissant, Mo., who gave the keynote address at the University of Toledo and the city’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Unity Celebration at UT’s Savage Arena.
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She described the tear gas, the armored vehicles, the lines of police.

On the night of the grand jury announcement, while dragging a woman who was experiencing heart attack symptoms to medical care, Ms. Bush said she had a gun pointed to her head and was kicked and thrown to the ground by officers.

“That was true helplessness and hopelessness,” she said.

“This is not an anti-police speech. I’m not anti-police, I’m anti-police brutality. I’m anti-foolishness,” she said to applause. “I’m pro-peace. I’m pro-people, all people.”

Also speaking were Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), UT President Sharon Gaber, and Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant.

Miss Kaptur recognized Ms. Hicks-Hudson as the first black woman to be mayor of Toledo, which earned a standing ovation from the crowd.

The program also featured performances by Carmen Miller Music, the Scott High School marching band, singing quartet JV4, Toledo International Youth Orchestra, and United Vision Baptist Choir.

 

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