Children celebrate the life, legacy of MLK

Jan. 21, 2014 @ 09:31 AM

“Dr. King was one of the best motivators in the world and he’s the reason we’re able to walk the streets today and go to any college and get an education,” Lawrence Futrell said to his daughter. “This opportunity was sacrificed for you.”

Futrell and his 9-year old daughter Lauryn were among the hundreds at the fourth annual children’s birthday party for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday in Northgate Mall. Looking at black-and-white photos of King and other civil rights leaders in an empty store space, Futrell explained the role of King in American history.

It was this same type of parent-teaching that started the annual celebration.

“Four years ago we (parents) were looking for an event to take our kids to to help explain the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a language that children could understand,” Jessica Burroughs said. “We couldn’t find one so we created our own.”

Burroughs is part of N.C. MomsRising, a sponsor of the event. Also sponsored by Northgate Mall, Lango Kids RTP, Durham Mothers Club, Chapel Hill/Carrboro Mothers Club, Kids Voting Durham and Mom in Chapel Hill, the birthday party has grown each year.

“We’ve gotten a lot more people to come out, it’s easier to get it organized and more people are donating money and we’re getting more powerful speakers,” said Burroughs.

This year’s speaker was Charmaine McKissick-Melton, chair of the mass communications department at N.C. Central University and daughter of civil rights activist and Durham attorney, Floyd McKissick Sr.

McKissick told the crowd that 50 years ago she was in the third grade and among the first black students to desegregate Durham Public Schools.

“Can you believe that back in the day, white people went to one school and black people went to another school,” she said. “Back then that was the law and you had to do it.”

She told the crowd how her sister, Joycelyn McKissick, was tormented as a student while integrating the public schools, including other studdnts’ forcing her head into a used toilet.

McKissick-Melton also shared her experience as a Ph.D. candidate of being called “a n-word female dog” 20 years ago while she walked down the street in Lexington, Ky.

Dennis Garrett said that he attended Monday’s event because he had “a 5-year old daughter and a 10-year old son who need to understand their history.”

Garrett’s son, Dennis Garrett Jr., said that he knew about King and his life’s history and understands why the celebration is important.

“I thought that it was helpful for people who don’t know Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was and to help kids understand their history,” he said.

Kaci Bishop was with her husband and three children at the birthday party. Having come for the last few years, Bishop values what it offers the community.

“It’s always a wonderful event,” she said. “It’s an important day and person to commemorate. It’s a nice, accessible way to honor Dr. King with the kids.”

The celebration for kids also included kids as performers. Several Kidz Notes participants performed music together, some volunteered to help MusicianCorps by playing some music for “Lean On Me,” and several students from Arts and Latin American Expression Academy performed two dances, including a courtship dance introduced to Colombia by African slaves.

MusicianCorps artist Darrell Johnson briefly talked about the role of music during the civil rights movement and its power to inspire, motivate and coalesce the people.
“Dr. King was somewhat of a musician in his own right in how he would speak. He spoke with such a stirring and dynamic energy,” Johnson said. “The sound of his voice would vibrate through the halls of each and every venue he spoke. He would strike his audience with such a force but yet there was so much balance is his demeanor.
“Today in this very moment we represent that change, us here serving the community through MusicianCorps using the content of our characters to work with the children who are indeed our future,” said Johnson. “But the work doesn’t stop here. We are the change we seek and Dr. King we promise you that change will continue to come.”