Monday, January 21, 2002

Riots, Sept. 11 add meaning
to Martin Luther King Jr. Day

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Octavia Brown, 15, of Covington lifts a candle during the annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. prayer celebration Sunday at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        Cincinnati's riots and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are the catalyst for more meaningful Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations this year, event organizers say.

        “I think 2001 was a tough year for everyone, particularly Cincinnati,” said Paulette Leeper, an organizer of Sunday's Fourth Annual Loveland Community Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

        “Separated by only five months, we had two incredible events that tore our community apart,” Ms. Leeper said. “That kind of thing motivates people to come together.”

        Across the Tristate, community organizations and churches expect higher turnout today at their traditional marches, religious services and other events honoring the slain civil rights leader, who would have turned 73 on Jan. 15.

        The riots and terrorist attacks also have spawned some new King events in the Tristate.

        But on the eve of the federal holiday, racial tension again simmered publicly.

        Outside the Evendale Municipal Building on Sunday, 150 people peacefully protested its police department's hiring of Stephen Roach, the white Cincinnati police officer whose fatal shooting of an unarmed black man sparked April's riots.

        Officer Roach, who was acquitted of charges of negligent homicide and obstructing official business, quit the Cincinnati Police Department and is scheduled to begin work in the 3,000-resident village Tuesday.

        Protesters, including four ministers from Cincinnati churches and about 20 members of the Cincinnati Black United Front, chanted, “No Roach!” and one man carried a sign bearing Dr. King's picture with mock blood splattered on it. It read: “No Justice, No Peace Ever!”

        Meanwhile, Maxwilliam J. SaekiLewis, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition, expects a higher turnout than previous years for today's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial March and Program from Fountain Square to Music Hall downtown.

        “The pulse of the community that I've sensed is that it will be a more attended event this year because of the stormy community relations prevalent in this city, and by people's presence, I think they will be saying, "Let's begin a real healing process,'” Mr. SaekiLewis said.

        “Let's deal with the issue at hand, no matter how difficult or painful it might be, because not to deal with it would be more difficult and painful in the days ahead, so let's deal with it now so we can move this city ahead,” he said.

        Some King celebrations have been in place for years, but a few organizations and churches saw the federal holiday as a fitting time to promote unity.

        For the first time, Forest Chapel United Methodist Church in Forest Park will host a community worship service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The service begins at 7 p.m. today at the church, 680 W. Sharon Road.

        “We have been talking more and more in our church about the diverse community that we are in and that we need to be more welcoming and more intentional,” said the Rev. Terry Pontius, senior pastor of the 850-member church. “I think the events of the past year have raised our consciousness a little bit. We thought this would be a good first step for us.”

        The civil rights leader's birthdayalso is a catalyst to pause and reflect on how he might have responded to Cincinnati's riots and strained race relations.

        “Times have changed, but the message hasn't,” the Rev. Mr. Pontius said. “I think he would probably talk about a regression and we're losing ground, and we need to regain it in terms of unity and understanding.

        “I don't think he would be silent,” the pastor said. “I know he would be vocal and encourage others, too, but in a non-violent way.”

        At the King celebration Sunday afternoon in Loveland, Tony Hauser, a 15-year-old Loveland High School freshman, read his essay on what the Rev. Dr. King would do if he were in Cincinnati today.

        “Dr. King first, I think, would gather people to talk peacefully and assure that peace would be reached between blacks and whites,” said Tony, who is biracial.

        Dr. King, said Tony, would speak out against the April riots.

        “King would plead with everyone in Cincinnati to be calm and ask the citizens of this great city to try to understand one another to make progress by helping each other,” the teen said. “I think Dr. King would say having riots would not be the way to work things out.”

        For race relations to improve, Cincinnati residents must take a proactive approach, Tony said.

        “Race relations have been a serious problem not addressed fully and, for Cincinnati to prosper, we can't judge others by their race,” he said. “We must get to know and work well with different races.”

        About 70 people attended the event at Loveland Intermediate School, which included dinner, entertainment and a Neighbor to Neighbor discussion Sunday night.

        David Miller, one of the orga nizers, said although Loveland is a predominantly white community “more and more I'm hearing from my neighbors about the diversity and how they are embracing it.”

        Bethel A.M.E. Church in Oxford was one of seven churches and community organizations that sponsored an Interfaith Dialogue & Celebration to mark the Rev. Dr. King's memory on Sunday.

        The church's pastor, the Rev. Mark Tyler, said it's difficult to know how Dr. King would have evolved, had he had a chance to live his life out. But the Rev. Mr. Tyler offered this gentle reminder:

        “(Dr. King) was not only an advocate for the African-American community, but other groups as well — anybody he felt was wrongly victimized and oppressed.”

        Enquirer reporters William A. Weathers and Jennifer Edwards contributed to this report.

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