By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Hundreds of bundled-up Greater Cincinnatians marched from Fountain Square to Music Hall on Monday, facing a bitter cold breeze, carrying banners of peace and singing "We Shall Overcome."
In addition, thousands of Tristate residents attended community and church celebrations to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Hundreds march up Vine Street from Fountain Square to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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Organizers of downtown events said the Rev. Dr. King's message of nonviolent resistance and loving one's enemies maintains its relevance today, especially as the United States stands on the brink of war, fear of terrorism heightens and controversy is renewed over the future of affirmative action programs in college admissions.
Locally, his teachings are even more applicable, they said, as a boycott of downtown businesses and a wave of gun violence that is claiming the lives of young black men make headlines.
Protests punctuated downtown's King Day celebrations as supporters of the boycott made their presence felt. Demonstrators marched outside a King Day breakfast, disrupted a ceremony at Fountain Square and even took their protests outside the defined "boycott zone" to Music Hall.
The day began with more than 700 at the Hyatt Regency downtown for the 13th annual Arts Consortium Dreamkeeper Awards Breakfast.
The breakfast became a source of controversy when Martin Luther King III, son of the late Rev. Dr. King, asked the Arts Consortium to move or cancel the breakfast because of the boycott.
Greg Mallios (10), Jihadia Fowler (9), Marcus Murphy (10), Chloe Watkins (10) and Briana Lundy (10) perform at the Arts Consortium Dreamkeepers Awards Breakfast.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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The Arts Consortium refused to move the event from the Hyatt, but did drop the Rev. Dr. King's name from the title out of respect for his family's wishes.
Nearly 40 supporters of the downtown boycott chanted "What would Dr. King do?'' as they marched in front of the hotel.
At the event, Dr. Spencer Crew, executive director of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, urged the audience at the breakfast to think about being "allies" to change rather than "bystanders."
"Bystanders are those who watch life go by. They don't want to get involved. They don't believe what happens to others impacts their lives," said Dr. Crew. "Allies are more proactive. They believe they have a mission in life to make the lives of others better.
"It is important that more of us think about being allies," he said. "We need to think about how we can encourage others to dream."
Mayor Charlie Luken said the holiday is a day "where communities get together to measure their progress and their failures."
He said Cincinnati could build from positive steps such as the signing of a historic agreement to improve police and community relations, the hiring of a new city manager and even the selection of a new Bengals head coach.
"It is important that we in Cincinnati recognize that we are not to the mountaintop," Mr. Luken said. "But we are on that difficult road up the mountain.."
The West End-based Arts Consortium honored Jamie Johnson, an 11th-grader at Withrow International High School, as its 2003 Youth Dreamkeeper. Linda Jackson Pointer received the 2003 Dreamkeeper Award for her volunteer efforts with the Urban League, Grassroots Leadership Academy and other organizations.
Councilman Paul Booth, who accepted a lifetime achievement award at the breakfast on behalf of his father, the late Rev. L.V. Booth, said people attended the event, "not because we are unmindful of the challenges we face as a city, but perhaps because we have an honest disagreement about how to move toward resolution."
Sharon Hardin, executive director of the Arts Consortium, said some people may have stayed away; last year's breakfast drew about 900 guests.
Shortly after the breakfast, hundreds of people thronged Fountain Square for a program that was scheduled to include a prayer and proclamation from the mayor followed by a march to Music Hall.
However, the proclamation was never delivered as protesters crowded the stage and jeered WCIN-AM radio host and master of ceremonies Courtis Fuller.
The demonstrators quieted only when the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a veteran of the civil-rights movement, took the microphone to offer a brief prayer to kick off the march.
Protesters followed marchers all the way to Music Hall, where some continued the demonstration.
The demonstrations, however, did not seem to take away from the energy of the commemorative program inside Music Hall. The multiracial and multidenominational Martin Luther King Jr. Chorale and soloists from the Arts Consortium Choir gave a performance that brought the crowd of several hundred to its feet.
Maxwilliam J. SaekiLewis, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition, which organizes the program at Music Hall, applauded those who turned out. .
"What I see is a wonderful sight," he said. "A colorful bouquet of humanity."
Violence hits home
At one point in the program, he asked any person whose life had been affected by the violence in the city to stand up.
When only a handful of audience members stood, Mr. SaekiLewis said, "You see, that is our problem. The violence only affects a few of us. Everyone in this room should have stood up because the violence and the death should affect us all."
The Rev. Mr. Shuttlesworth, the keynote speaker at the program, said, "there can be no justification for black-on-black crime."
The pastor, who marched beside the Rev. Dr. King in Birmingham, Ala., told the audience Cincinnati must "declare war on racism in our hearts, our souls and our minds."
"All of us must hear the word of God first," the Rev. Mr. Shuttlesworth said. "You have to unlearn hatred to find out what love means."
Howard Wilkinson contributed to this report. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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